Jerky Babies: 7 Things You Can Do for Your Jerky Newborn

Jerky babies who seem to be extra fidgety often find it more difficult to get to sleep and stay asleep. I’m sure you’ve seen it with your little one…you FINALLY finish rocking them to sleep, only for them to jerk themselves awake the second you set them down in their bassinet. The good news is that there are plenty of things you can try with your little one to help mitigate all that jerking and get them the sleep they need!

 

In this blog post, I’ll go over:

 

Why are newborn babies so jerky?

 

How do I know if my baby has a high need for sensory input?

 

7 Things You Can Do to Help Your Jerky Baby

 

 

Jerky Babies | The Peaceful Sleeper

 

 

Why are newborn babies so jerky?

 

We’re all born with something called the Moro reflex. The Moro reflex is a natural, involuntary response in infants that is triggered when they are startled or have a sensation of falling…and it causes them to jerky and flail about. 

 

Because newborn’s muscle control is still so immature, they can’t control these jerky movements. This can be frustrating for both of you – you’ve probably seen your baby involuntarily smack themselves in the face and even make themselves cry. This is the Moro reflex!

 

The key to working through this is to fill up our babies’ need for sensory input. Giving our babies the sensory input they need will help their bodies to be able to feel more calm when it IS time to wind down. 

 

If you haven’t already, download my FREE newborn sleep guide. It’ll give you a good rundown on establishing good sleep for your newborn that you can print and keep with you! Download for free here 💤

 

 

How do I know if my baby has a high need for sensory input?

 

For one, your baby might be very obviously jerky at night…to the point where you can tell it’s their jerking movements that keep them from falling and staying asleep. 

 

Something you may not have realized, however, is that parents who have a high need for movement to feel calm usually have more jerky babies. We tend to see this a lot! This is because they have so much energy (just like their parent(s)), but they’re so little and don’t have anything to do with it yet. Hence, they jerk! As babies get bigger, they learn how to better manage this. 

 

Some people (even as babies) have this natural love and need for movement. So we usually don’t have to look that far in the gene pool to find the mom who can’t sit still or the dad who’s a marathon runner… firefighters, construction workers, military, hobby athletes, professional athletes – the list goes on and on and on…people who have a high need for movement to feel good and calm. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!

 

Jerky Babies | The Peaceful Sleeper

 

 

7 Things You Can Do to Help Your Jerky Baby

 

1. Deep squeezes

Throughout the day, give your baby deep, tight squeezes. You can do this during daytime play when you’re bonding with them! 

 

Deep squeezes and holding your baby tight and close to you while putting them down in their crib or bassinet is another way to help mitigate that Moro reflex when trying to lay your baby down without waking them up. Here’s what I mean…

 

Keep your baby tight to your chest while bending down as close to their mattress as possible. Then, try putting your baby down on their side BEFORE gently rolling them onto their back.

 

Jerky Babies | The Peaceful Sleeper

Click here to watch a step-by-step demonstration of this on Instagram!

 

 

2. Cross body hugs

Keeping your newborn snug is a great way to help mitigate their jerking reflex. Deep, cross-body hugs can help with this. This is another reason why I LOVE a good, tight swaddle so much! It’s basically a cross-body hug that helps keep them snug AND keeps their arms from flailing and hurting themselves or waking themselves back up after just getting to sleep. 

 

I’ve got a swaddle hack for our SUPER jerky babies who still would benefit from a swaddle, but tend to bust out of them very easily. 

 

It’s called the Double Swaddle. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Grab the thinnest swaddle blanket you have and fold it into a long rectangle and place it over your regular, muslin swaddle
  2. Lay baby on both swaddles and weave the thin one over one arm, underneath their back, and over their other arm
  3. Finish off with a regular swaddle using the swaddle blanket underneath

 

We’re not super pinning their arms down… it’s just enough to keep them snug and contained!

 

Jerky Babies | The Peaceful Sleeper

Click here to watch a demonstration of the double swaddle on Instagram.

 

 

3. Massage 

Massaging your baby is a great way to foster connection AND help them sleep better! There are lots of ways to make it enjoyable and relaxing for your little one, such as scented lotion/oil, dim lighting, warm towels/environment, etc. 

 

Jerky Babies | The Peaceful Sleeper

Click here to watch one of my FAVORITE Instagram reels on baby massages.

 

If you haven’t already, download my FREE newborn sleep guide. It’ll give you a good rundown on establishing good sleep for your newborn that you can print and keep with you! Download for free here 💤

 

 

4. Slow bicycle kicks

Bicycle kicks aren’t only great for jerking and calming your baby’s sensory system, but also for gas and bonding with your little one!

 

Babies with a lot of jerking reflex usually have built-up tension in their bodies that they need to burn off, and bicycle kicks can do just that. I recommend higher-energy bicycle kicks during daytime play and slower, deeper more rhythmic pulses before bedtime. 

 

Jerky Babies | The Peaceful Sleeper

Click here to watch a demonstration of bicycle kicks before bedtime on Instagram. 

 

 

5. Practice standing

Help hold your baby up and practice “standing” with them by giving them something for their feet to push off of (like the floor or your legs). Another way to do this is by implementing more tummy time.

During tummy time, give your baby something to push off of with their legs by using a piece of furniture behind them, or lay them on your chest so they can push off your legs. Think of it like they are practicing squats…but on their stomach!

 

Jerky Babies | The Peaceful Sleeper

Click here to watch more about jerky babies and tummy time on Instagram. 

 

If your baby seems to HATE traditional tummy time, check out my blog post with other options and alternatives!

 

 

6. Bouncing and swinging

You’re probably already doing this without even thinking about it! You can fill your baby’s need for movement simply by light bouncing and playing with them throughout the day.

 

Jerky Babies | The Peaceful Sleeper

Click here to watch more on bouncing and swinging on Instagram.

 

 

7. Seek out an occupational therapist

It is ALWAYS a good idea to talk to a specialist, especially when your baby’s sleep quality is being tampered with! If your troubleshooting doesn’t seem to be working, seek out an occupational therapist who can help you get to the bottom of your baby’s jerking and fidgeting. 

 

Jerky Babies | The Peaceful Sleeper

Click here to watch more tips for jerky babies on Instagram. 

 

 

Recap on Jerky Babies

 

Jerking and fidgeting is something that gets better with time and troubleshooting! Trying out these seven tips and tricks is a great place to start. Remember, we have an AMAZING team of sleep experts who can work with you and support you along the way! If you’re ready to start troubleshooting with one of our consultants, grab a consultation.

 

Whether your little one is a newborn (0-4 Months Content Library), 4-24 months (4-24 Months Content Library), or a toddler (2-5 Years Content Library), we have the resources you need to get your family the sleep you all deserve! 

Chrissy Lawler

Chrissy Lawler

LMFT, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant

Hi! I’m so glad you’re here! I’m a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, practicing for over 13 years.  I’ve set out to do ALL of the research and I created a method to optimize baby sleep that is tuned in, empowering and WORKS. There absolutely should be joy in motherhood, and I have learned that every baby CAN get better sleep!

Read more about my team here.

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