baby flailing arms and legs before sleep

Why Does Your Baby Lift Their Legs in Sleep? Unveiling the Surprising Reasons and Solutions

Table of Contents

1. Common Reasons for a Baby Lifting Their Legs While Sleeping

When babies lift their legs while sleeping, it can be a completely normal behavior and may not necessarily indicate any underlying issues. However, there are a few common reasons why babies may exhibit this behavior:

Gas or Digestive Discomfort

Babies have developing digestive systems, and sometimes they experience gas or discomfort that causes them to lift their legs. This can be due to swallowing air during feeding or having difficulty digesting certain foods. If your baby seems otherwise content and does not display other signs of distress, such as excessive crying or fussiness, it is likely just a temporary discomfort.

Comfort and Soothing

Lifting their legs while sleeping can also be a self-soothing technique for babies. The motion of lifting their legs may provide comfort and help them relax into sleep. Some babies find this movement soothing and use it as a way to self-regulate their bodies before falling asleep.


Possible Health Concerns

In some cases, leg-lifting during sleep could be associated with health concerns such as colic, reflux, or constipation. If your baby consistently lifts their legs during sleep along with other symptoms like excessive crying, arching of the back, or difficulty passing stools, it is best to consult with your pediatrician for further evaluation.

2. Is It Normal for Babies to Lift Their Legs During Sleep, and If So, Why?

Yes, it is perfectly normal for babies to lift their legs during sleep. This behavior is often seen in infants from birth up until around 6 months of age. There are several reasons why babies engage in leg-lifting while sleeping:

Muscle Development

Babies are constantly developing and strengthening their muscles, including those in their legs. Lifting their legs during sleep can be a way for them to exercise and build strength in their lower limbs. It is a natural part of their physical development.

Exploration and Sensory Stimulation

Babies use all of their senses to explore the world around them, even while sleeping. Lifting their legs may provide them with sensory stimulation and help them learn about their bodies and how they move. It allows them to engage with different sensations and develop body awareness.

Comfort and Security

Lifting their legs can also provide babies with a sense of comfort and security. The motion may mimic the feeling of being held or rocked, which can help them feel safe and calm as they drift off to sleep.

3. Age at Which Babies Typically Start Lifting Their Legs in Their Sleep

Babies typically start lifting their legs in their sleep during the first few months of life. This behavior is commonly observed from birth up until around 6 months of age. However, every baby is unique, and some may start this leg-lifting motion earlier or later than others.

During the newborn stage, babies often have limited control over their movements, including lifting their legs intentionally. As they grow older, gain more muscle control, and develop stronger leg muscles, they may begin to lift their legs more frequently during sleep.

It’s important to note that if your baby continues to lift their legs well beyond 6 months of age or displays other concerning symptoms along with this behavior, it may be worth discussing with your pediatrician for further evaluation.

4. Potential Health Concerns Associated with a Baby Lifting Their Legs While Sleeping

While leg-lifting during sleep is often a normal behavior, there are some potential health concerns that could be associated with this action. It’s important to monitor your baby for any additional symptoms or signs of distress that may indicate an underlying issue. Some potential health concerns include:


Babies with colic may lift their legs during sleep as a way to relieve discomfort caused by excessive gas or digestive issues. Colic is characterized by persistent crying and fussiness, typically occurring in the late afternoon or evening.


In some cases, babies with gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) may lift their legs while sleeping due to acid reflux or heartburn discomfort. Other signs of reflux can include frequent spitting up, irritability after feeding, and difficulty gaining weight.


Babies who are constipated may lift their legs during sleep as they try to find a more comfortable position to alleviate the discomfort. Signs of constipation can include infrequent bowel movements, hard stools, and straining during bowel movements.

If you suspect that your baby’s leg-lifting is related to any health concerns, it is best to consult with your pediatrician for proper evaluation and guidance.

5. How a Baby’s Sleep Position Affects the Likelihood of Leg-Lifting

The position in which a baby sleeps can influence the likelihood of leg-lifting during sleep. Here are some ways different sleep positions may affect leg-lifting:

Back Sleeping

  • Sleeping on their back is the recommended safe sleep position for babies to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
  • This position allows for optimal airflow and reduces the risk of suffocation.
  • While back sleeping, babies may still lift their legs as part of their natural movements or for comfort and self-soothing purposes.

Side Sleeping

  • Side sleeping is not recommended for babies due to the increased risk of SIDS.
  • Babies who are placed on their side may have limited leg-lifting movements compared to back sleepers.
  • If your baby consistently lifts their legs while side sleeping, it’s best to transition them to the back sleeping position.

Tummy Time

  • Tummy time is an essential activity for babies to develop neck and upper body strength.
  • During tummy time, babies are less likely to lift their legs as they focus on lifting their head and engaging their upper body muscles.
  • It’s important to always supervise tummy time sessions and place babies on a firm surface free from any potential hazards.

Regardless of the sleep position, it’s crucial to follow safe sleep guidelines recommended by pediatricians and create a safe sleep environment for your baby.

6. Can Teething or Digestive Issues Contribute to a Baby Lifting Their Legs During Sleep?

Yes, teething or digestive issues can contribute to a baby lifting their legs during sleep. Here’s how these factors may influence leg-lifting:


Teething can cause discomfort in infants, leading them to engage in various self-soothing behaviors such as leg-lifting. The pressure from erupting teeth can cause gum soreness or pain, which may be temporarily relieved by lifting the legs.

Digestive Issues

Gas, colic, reflux, or constipation can all contribute to digestive discomfort in babies. These issues may lead to leg-lifting as a way for babies to find relief or adjust their body position for comfort.

If you suspect teething or digestive issues are causing your baby’s leg-lifting behavior during sleep, you can try offering appropriate teething toys or consulting with your pediatrician for guidance on managing any gastrointestinal symptoms.

7. Specific Developmental Milestones That Could Explain Why a Baby Lifts Their Legs in Sleep

The act of lifting their legs during sleep can be related to specific developmental milestones that babies go through. Here are some milestones that could explain this behavior:

Muscle Strength and Control

As babies develop stronger muscles and gain more control over their limbs, they may naturally engage in leg-lifting during sleep as part of their physical development. This milestone typically occurs between 4 to 6 months of age.

Exploration and Body Awareness

Babies are constantly exploring their bodies and the world around them. Lifting their legs during sleep allows them to engage with different sensations and develop a sense of body awareness. This milestone is ongoing throughout infancy.

Soothing Self-Regulation

Lifting their legs can serve as a self-soothing technique for babies. It provides comfort and helps them regulate their bodies before falling asleep. This milestone becomes more prominent as babies develop self-soothing skills around 3 to 4 months of age.

8. Influence of Sleeping Environments or Bedding Choices on a Baby’s Leg-Lifting Behavior During Sleep

The sleeping environment and bedding choices can potentially influence a baby’s leg-lifting behavior during sleep. Here are some factors to consider:

Temperature and Comfort

A comfortable sleeping environment with appropriate room temperature can help reduce the likelihood of leg-lifting due to discomfort. Ensure the room is not too hot or too cold, and dress your baby in breathable clothing suitable for the temperature.

Mattress Firmness

A firm mattress provides proper support for a baby’s developing body and can contribute to better sleep posture. A mattress that is too soft may lead to more leg-lifting as babies try to find a comfortable position.


Swaddling can provide a sense of security and limit excessive movements during sleep, potentially reducing leg-lifting. However, it’s important to follow safe swaddling practices and discontinue swaddling once your baby shows signs of rolling over.

Baby’s Sleepwear

The type of sleepwear your baby wears can also impact their comfort level during sleep. Choose clothing that allows for freedom of movement while keeping them at an appropriate temperature.

9. Techniques or Strategies to Help Prevent or Reduce Leg-Lifting in Babies During Sleep

If you find that your baby’s leg-lifting during sleep is causing discomfort or disrupting their rest, there are several techniques and strategies you can try:

Gentle Belly Massage

  • A gentle belly massage before bedtime may help alleviate any gas or digestive discomfort that could be contributing to leg-lifting.
  • Use gentle circular motions with your fingertips on your baby’s tummy, following their natural digestion path.
  • Always be mindful of your baby’s cues and stop if they show signs of discomfort.

Provide Comforting Routines

  • Establish consistent bedtime routines that include soothing activities like a warm bath, gentle lullabies, or cuddling.
  • Consistency and predictability can help signal to your baby that it’s time to wind down and relax, potentially reducing leg-lifting during sleep.

Create a Calm Sleep Environment

  • Ensure the sleep environment is quiet, dimly lit, and free from distractions.
  • Using white noise machines or soft music may help drown out any sudden noises that could startle your baby and lead to leg-lifting.

10. Do Babies Tend to Outgrow the Habit of Lifting Their Legs While Sleeping as They Grow Older?

Yes, many babies tend to outgrow the habit of lifting their legs while sleeping as they grow older. As their muscles strengthen and they gain more control over their bodies, this behavior often decreases or disappears altogether. By around 6 months of age, most babies have developed enough muscle control to maintain a more relaxed sleep posture without frequent leg-lifting movements.

However, every baby is unique in their development, so some may continue this behavior for longer periods. If your baby’s leg-lifting persists beyond the typical age range or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, it’s always best to consult with your pediatrician for further evaluation and guidance.

In conclusion, babies lift their legs in sleep as a natural reflex to promote comfort and relieve gas or discomfort in their digestive system.

Why does my baby put his legs up while sleeping?

Benign neonatal sleep myoclonus refers to the occurrence of spontaneous movements in an infant’s arms, legs, and face while they are sleeping. These movements typically cease by the age of 6 months and are a normal part of brain activity in infants.

Why does my baby lift legs and slam them down while sleeping?

PLMD, previously called sleep myoclonus or nocturnal myoclonus, can impact individuals of any age or gender. These short movements usually occur in the legs every 20 to 40 seconds. They come in groups, lasting from a few minutes to a few hours. The movements of PLMD can vary and may not occur every night.

Why does my baby keep lifting her legs up?

When a baby pulls their legs up towards their tummy while fussing or crying, it is typically a sign of discomfort, often due to gas pains. Babies with colic often exhibit this behavior when they are crying. To alleviate their pain, try burping the baby or holding them in a position that provides relief.

How should baby’s legs be when sleeping?

For swaddling to support proper hip development, it is important for the baby’s legs to have the ability to bend up and out at the hips. This allows for the natural growth and development of the hip joints. It is not recommended to tightly wrap the baby’s legs straight down and press them together.

What is Sandifer syndrome?

Sandifer syndrome is a movement disorder characterized by sudden spasms in the head, neck, and back, while the limbs are unaffected. This condition is commonly seen in children and is often linked to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Why is my baby flailing arms and legs at night?

The Moro reflex is a natural response in infants where they suddenly jerk, move their arms and legs, and may even cry when they are startled, which is why it is called the Moro reflex.

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