CircleBumpCheckedFilledMedicalBookmarkBookmarkTickBookmarkAddCheckBoxCheckBoxFilled

Why Babies Pull Their Legs to Their Chest

Is your little one continually pulling up their legs? Here's what it could mean and how to ease baby's discomfort.
save article
profile picture of Wendy Sue Swanson, MD
By Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, Pediatrician
Updated August 6, 2020
Hero Image
Image: Yuko Hirao
We have included third party products to help you navigate and enjoy life’s biggest moments. Purchases made through links on this page may earn us a commission.

Does baby seem like they’re trying to fold into the fetal position, pulling their legs up toward their chest? It could be a sign of something going on in the abdomen. Read on to learn why babies pull their legs to their chest and how to ease any discomfort.

Why Do Babies Pull Up Their Legs?

Here’s the thing: Babies pass gas pretty much all day long, and sometimes simply changing positions—like pulling their legs toward their chest—can help them fart more comfortably.

However, on rare occasions, pulling up the legs can be a sign of a serious medical condition called intussusception, which occurs when part of the intestine pulls into itself, like a telescope. This can block the passage of food and cut off blood supply to the area, and it can be very serious. According to the Mayo Clinic, intussusception is the most common cause of intestinal obstruction in children younger than 3, although the cause of most cases of intussusception in children is unknown.

Signs of intussusception include:

  • Sudden, loud crying
  • Pulling knees to the chest when they cry
  • Stool mixed with blood and mucus
  • Vomiting
  • A lump in the abdomen
  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever

Children with intussusception may have one or more of the above symptoms; some may experience no pain, while others may have just pain and no other symptoms. The pain of intussusception comes and goes at first, usually every 15 to 20 minutes. These painful episodes last longer and happen more often as time passes.

What to Do When Baby Pulls Up Their Legs

To treat your little one’s gas, try gently rubbing baby’s tummy in a clockwise direction or lay them face-down across your knees, gently moving your legs to massage their belly. You can also try burping baby or holding them upright after feedings.

Related Video

When to Call the Doctor

In most cases, baby is pulling up their legs simply to try to relieve themselves of gas pains, and it (along with the gas) shall pass. However, if they’re crying loudly every few minutes and their cries are growing louder and longer, and if they have other symptoms like fever, vomiting or bloody or mucus-like stool, or appears otherwise severely out of sorts, you should immediately call your doctor, who can provide a diagnosis and suggest treatment.

Updated February 2020

Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE, FAAP, is a pediatrician, author and media contributor. She is the past chief of digital innovation at Seattle Children’s Hospital and wrote the Seattle Mama Doc blog on behalf of the hospital from 2009 to 2019. She now blogs at wendysueswanson.com and is the author of *Mama Doc Medicine: Finding Calm and Confidence in Parenting, Child Health and Work-Life Balance. Follow her on Instagram @drwendysueswanson.*

save article
ADVERTISEMENT

Next on Your Reading List

Why Baby Hates Tummy Time (and What You Can Do to Help)
Why Baby Hates Tummy Time (and What You Can Do to Help)
Medically Reviewed by Lauren Crosby, MD
toddler playing stem toy blocks
Amazon Prime Day Deals on STEM Toys for Babies and Kids
By Stephanie Grassullo
collage of developmental toys for babies and toddlers
25 Best Newborn & Baby Toys That Help With Development and Learning
By Kelsey Paine
ADVERTISEMENT
kiddie pool-hero
The Best Kiddie Pools for Babies and Toddlers
By Danielle Halibey
13 Children’s Books That Celebrate Juneteenth
13 Children’s Books That Celebrate Juneteenth
By Nehal Aggarwal
Sandbox with toys and lid
The 6 Best Kids’ Sandbox Options to Promote Development
By Emma O'Regan-Reidy
parents changing newborn baby's diaper at home
What Baby's First Day Home Is Really Like
Medically Reviewed by Lauren Crosby, MD
ADVERTISEMENT
Hero Best Gifts for One-Year-Olds
The Best Toys and Gifts for One-Year-Olds
By Martina Garvey
two toddlers in the bath together sharing toys
How to Teach Toddlers to Share
Medically Reviewed by Lauren Crosby, MD
mother and toddler daughter sitting on the couch reading a book together at home
How to Tell if Your Toddler Is Smart
Medically Reviewed by Lauren Crosby, MD
ADVERTISEMENT
Easter Basket Ideas
31 Easter Basket Ideas for Toddlers and Babies That Don’t Involve Candy
By Christin Perry
Tummy Time Toys-hero
The Best Tummy Time Toys for Babies
By Christin Perry
7 Weird Toddler Behaviors That Are Actually Normal
7 Weird Toddler Behaviors That Are Actually Normal
By Jenna McCarthy
ADVERTISEMENT
dad helping baby walk
6 Signs Baby Will Walk Soon
Medically Reviewed by Loretta Cody, MD
Toy Storage Ideas-hero
12 Best Toy Organizers to Keep the Clutter in Check
By Korin Miller
tb-best-toddler-movies-HERO
The Best Toddler Movies (and Where to Watch Them)
By Emma O'Regan-Reidy
Will Ferrell in the kids Christmas movie Elf
The 20 Best Kids' Christmas Movies for Family Movie Nights
By Celia Shatzman
ADVERTISEMENT
Toddler Sleds Hero
7 Best Toddler Sleds for Snowbound Fun
By Korin Miller
Newborn Toys Hero
The 18 Best Newborn Toys to Engage Your Little One
By Danielle Halibey
The 29 Best Toys for 18-Month-Old Tots, According to Developmental Experts-hero
The 29 Best Toys for 18-Month-Old Tots, According to Developmental Experts
By Danielle Halibey
ADVERTISEMENT
Article removed.
Article removed.
Name added. View Your List