Unsettled baby syndrome

OptiStart Chiropractic
January 22, 2018

Interesting facts about pain in babies.

- Babies respond to pain differently to older children and adults.

- Even the smallest neonates can respond to noxious stimulation with signs of stress and distress.

- Newborns can be regarded as hypersensitive to painful stimuli, and milder stimuli result in more prolonged responses.

- A painful stimulus is felt in a less specific location than adults. For example pain felt in the shoulder may be experienced not specifically in the shoulder, but in a larger region.

- A baby responds in a generalised, whole body way to pain. They can’t tell us where the pain is but it is expressed in their whole nervous system, as crying, body tension, or through the autonomic nervous system (expressed as increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, and abnormal digestive function).

- newborns and infants have immature modulation pathways, meaning they can't use their higher brain function to inhibit their pain.

The signs of a baby in physical pain include:     

·      Poor sleep and difficult settling

·      Increased heart rate, sweating, facial responses, and crying responses.

·      Frequent arching (extension) of the back and neck

·      Difficult and fussy feeding, especially on attachment, including pulling on/off and shaking and poor suck/swallow.

·      Sucking – strongly and quickly when in pain.

·      Frequent feeding due to the pain relief experienced with feeding.

·      Grasping of the fist, body tension, early rolling, increased early head control.

·      unsettled behaviour, especially that relieved by holding (touch), or movement (rocking/car).

·      Symptoms that may be labelled as “colic” or “reflux.”


The infant’s sleep cycle is 45-60 minutes. When the infant enters light sleep they may become conscious of pain, and may wake.