Women's Health: Postpartum Community
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Baby clenching fists, what could that be?

Hi, everyone.  I have a one year old niece (a cutie, might I add) who is teething very actively right now.  Lately, she's gotten into the habit of clenching her little fists, tightening her facial muscles and shaking her upper body as if she's very mad at something.  My sister has taken her to see a neurologist and the doctor kept reassuring my sister that the baby's nervous system is developing normally and nothing is wrong with her but it still worries us that she does that.  My sister noticed that she does it when her teeth start erupting.  Has anyone else experienced that with their baby?  Your response is much appreciated!!
64 Responses
537136 tn?1264944744
my daughter used to do the exact same thing and then my 2 nieces started doing it to copy her, it just phased off all of them so id say not to worry x
Avatar universal
My 9 month old has been doing the same thing. I noticed it when she was going through a period where she was really teething. She still does it on occasion, sometimes it just seems like she's frustrated. I asked my dr at the 9 month check-up and she said her youngest son had done the same thing and that they would call it "the mighty man". It seemed as though there was no cause for concern.
Avatar universal
THANK YOU! I was researching this and found this site and feel sooooo much better! My daughter is 8 mos and has been doing this for about a week.  It has been driving me nuts thinking of all the things it could be! So happy to see that it is normal and has happened to a lot of you! Glad not to be the only one that was going crazy!!! :) Good luck to all of you and take care!
Avatar universal
I'm soo glad that I read this post. My baby has been doing this since 6 months old when she started to teeth. I guess it is related. I asked the dr at ther 6 & 9 month and he told me it may be "acid reflux"?? She hasn't been doing it as often but the last 2 weeks, the daycare told me she does this at changing time and more often. She clenches her fists and holds them to her chest, and she crosses her legs and stretches them out. She does this until she turns red. If you distract her, she will stop but then may continue for a few more seconds. After that lil episode she just continues to play. Anyone experience this?
Avatar universal
Hi, I was just reading your post and I am in an exactly similar situation, with my daughter who is 4 months old. She recently started doing what you described, crossing and stretching her legs out and getting red in her face. With one arm she is pulling her trousers up and with the other one she is either pulling her hair or rubbing her eye. I took her to the GP and she said all was normal. She does have a reflux and the GP suggested this might be what caused her behaviour. She also just started teething and taking everything into her mouth. Anyway, I am worried of what it could be and just wanted to check with you and see how your daughter is doing and if she is not doing this "thing" anymore. I would appreciate any kind of advice/suggestion. Thank you!
Avatar universal
My 10 yr. old grandson walks around with this fists bawled up all the time. He is very smart and does have OC to some degree. I am concerned and my daughter doesnt think that I should  not worry about it. Can anyone help me? I dont get an answer on WebMD or any other site. Thank you for your comments and answers.

Avatar universal
  Just noticed this thread was from 2006. Would be interested to hear if your baby turned out fine. A lot of people in this thread are describing slightly different things. I think our 9 month old has exactly the same habit as your baby did. She raises her hands, clenches her face and upper body, but shakes very fast for about 2 seconds or less. Only about 3 times a day. I was worried, but the internet has eased my worries a little. Also the fact my girlfriends other daughter and her sister and neice did the same thing and intelligent healthy girls now. Maybe its a genetical thing to do with teething or being over excited. To aid other worried parents, I am going to put a few key word here to aid other people searching.
Tremors , shakes , baby , clenching , shivering , excitement , shuddering
Would love to hear from any other parants with this. Andrew_langton***@****
Avatar universal
I am SO RELIEVED to have found this!!  Reading all of this has brought tears to my eyes because of the relief i just got from reading all of your posts.  My daughter has been doing the stretch thing where she crosses her legs at the ankles and clenches her fist since she was about 6 months old.  She is now 20 months old and is still doing this.  When she was 13 months, I was so concerned, i took her into the doctor and she had no clue why she was doing that and never heard of any other babies doing this.  She thought it had something to do with having fluid in her brains.  So she had me go to the children's hospital to get an cat scan on my one year old and luckily  there was no swelling in her brain.  My daughter has gone through so many tests in order for the doctor to figure out what is wrong with her.  and eventually, she told me to let her continue to do it because she seems to enjoy it.  i stress every day when i see her do this and thought i was the only one with this problem.  Thank you all so much for your experiences with this. i am glad to know the children came out perfectly normal.  Now i can live knowing there is nothing wrong with her.  
Avatar universal
My 5 month old daughter just recently started doing this as well. She will clench her jaw sometimes with her tounge sticking out sometimes not, and ball her fists and stiffen up. It's only for a second or two, but she does it every few minutes sometimes every few seconds. There is no noise or redness in her face. She just started teething so I assume there is some sort of coorelation since most everyone seems to be saying that they are teething. Taking her to the dr this month, and I will repost if they say something is wrong.
Avatar universal
I just wanted to say what a relief it is to find that others have little ones that are doing the same type of thing!  I've been doing research to try and see if this was something I needed to take to take LO in to the DR for and I'm so glad to have found this site.  The only other thing I've found similar was Infant Spasms which is a type of infant epilepsy!  The symptoms weren't really what he's been doing and after seeing videos I know it is something different.  He just clenches his fists and kind of squishes his face for a second or two like he's really excited or stressed!  To those who have posted, how are your LOs doing now??  Is it something they outgrow??  I'm just curious to know more.  Our LO has been doing it off and on since about 4 months and he is now 9 months.  Thanks for any advice!
Avatar universal
I am so worrired that I am up at 4.30am writing this in Australia......my 6 month old baby girl since she was born keeps her fists closed alot and only the odd time will reach up on her playmat to touch her toys.....of course I am thinking the worst and worried it might be something very serious.......i would love some reassurance from some other moms out there......
Avatar universal
My 9 mons old daughter does the exactly same thing. She started doing this when she was less than 3 months. She would clench her fists and stretch out her legs, especially when she's sleepy. It seemed like she couldn't fall asleep without doing it. It's very hard to make her relax. Now she's doing it a little differently. She would cross her legs but very stiffened and repetitively grab her top (especially collar and chest area). We were so worried and have brought her to two pediatric neurologist. She even had an EEG exam when she was only 5 mons old. All findings are normal. Neurologist and ped can't explain it but said she's normal. I'm worried and it's difficult to see her sweats while doing it. She still does it a lot to fall asleep.
I'm just wondering how your little ones are doing now. Thanks!
Avatar universal
My almost 4 year old is doing this same thing and has been for almost a year. It seems to have gotten worse the last few weeks. I made an appointment with a neurologist for next Monday. This website makes me feel so much better and I am hoping he will tell me that I am just over anxious. I feel like people are looking at her though, as this "clenching" comes out after she has completed a project, like coloring a picture, or putting money in the church basket. She also grunts when she is concentrating. I do not think she is aware she is doing any of these actions.
Avatar universal
I also would like to thank everyone for these posts.  My son turns one year old today (12/2/09) and he started this behavior about a month ago.  At first it would only happen on occasion, maybe once or twice a week.  We would kind've make a game out of it and do it with him and then we would all have a nice laugh. Then he started doing it more and more when he was angry or excited.  I started to wonder if it was a neurological or physiological problem.  But to read that other people's children have done the same thing really makes me feel better.  I was crying so hard last night I almost wanted to take him to the emergency room!  
Also, thank you "Me2mommy2be" for the list of words for searches.  I didn't even know how to articulate this behavior let alone search for it!
Avatar universal
I posted in June 2009, when our baby was 9 months old.  I had forgotten all about this, as our daughter has grown out of it at 16 months. The other day, while watching the Night Garden, she saw Maca Paca and gave the tiniest shake. It reminded me of when she was 8 months old, and I was worried sick. As I wrote in my previous post, it seemed to be when she got excited, but then sometimes for no reason.  It started at 8 months old. She would clench her fists, tense up and shake v fast just for 2 seconds. My Dad said it looked like a shudder, I thought it looked like a spasm. I spent many nights upset googling. I did not want our baby getting head scans at this age. She would sometimes go a week, and then suddenly do it 6 times in a day, putting me in a worried state for the rest of it. My partner wasnt worried, and said her other daughter and sister did it. I finally got peace of mind a little, when I read that babies can sometimes do it when they wee. Another good piece of advice was to see if she still looked at things as she did it. Someone said hold her hands and if it stops, its nothing to worry about. Easier said than done, because it happens so fast. Well for new people searching, obviously I am not a doctor, but I can tell you how it went over the last 8 months. Gradually she started to look like she had more control over it as she got bigger and stronger. It started looking less and less involuntary and more like how we would shake if we were excited. It got to the point that I forgot about it, as it became less noticable. And my conclusion after talking with many Mums back in may : - Babies at a young age cant express their emotions. When Caitlin got excited, she had no way for it to come out. Now she screams, shouts yay!!! or claps her hands. She can run towards that new toy and yelp with excitement. Babies sometimes do many strange things, nodding their heads, sticking their tongue out, shaking, but for most of us, its nothing to worry about and a phase in this unbelievable journey of bringing up a child. Sometimes we should just enjoy it.  Date 31 Dec Happy New Year!!  Will post an update at 2 years old just for extra worriers :)  

Avatar universal
I think you guys are describing what my daughter might be doing. I know this sounds wrong, but it's almost like she's humping herself. She started doing this at about 3 months. She's now 3 years and 5 months old and still does this. She does it a lot when she's in her car seat. When she lays down she doesn't do this. SHe clenches her teeth and gets all sweaty. Now that shes older she puts a blanket or jacket over her head or her purse around her head. It drives me crazy. I hate this behavior. It's so weird to me. I am very worried about it as well. I also asked her doctor and she had no idea what I was talking about. Does this sound like what you guys are talking about? Thank you
Avatar universal
Hi there,
my 9.5mo old does SO similar a thing: but it happens sometimes when she lays down. She will take whatever object she has in her hand, hold it close, cross and clench her legs, cross and clench her arms, and make a weird face while sort of "calling out" to no one in particular.

Reading these posts makes me feel much much more comforted, I notice even though there are many variations of this same behavior, none of them have resulted in seizures or frightening activity in the brain.

We have told our Ped about her behavior; she had us see a neurologist who thinks the behavior is no problem but wants us to have scans "just to be sure". I hate this idea.  But at the same time have been scared of neglecting her and something scary happening later.....
Avatar universal
I am glad I read this post. My son is 11 weeks and he started clentching his fists and tightening up his body a couple days ago.  The doctor just told me that it was his nervous system developing.  It still worries me that it could be some type of neurological problem, but I will keep all of these posts in mind!
171768 tn?1324233699
i haven't read all of the responses, but to respond to you, my now 6 month old did it frequently. She had reflux, and she definitely did it when she was in pain. In addition, she had colic and what the pediatrician described as "neurological sensitivty." Despite all of these challenges, she outgrew it.
Avatar universal
My younger brother did this all through childhood.  It made us laugh when he was young, but it didn't ever go away completely.  He was apparently teased about it when he was in middle school.  His shaking involved shaking, opening his mouth, and clenching his fists, and always occurred when he was excited.  My mother saw him doing the same thing this year, and he is now 21. I never saw him do it myself when he was older, but when he thought he was alone he evidently would "shake" in the way he did when he was younger.  He never complained about it, and seemed embarrassed about it.

I wonder about what causes it as well.  I'll mention that my brother eventually became addicted to drugs and died, and my family very speculatively wonders if his paroxysm of pleasure or excitement might have had something to do with his addiction-proneness.  Maybe he knew about a level of euphoria or excitement that, once he had tasted it, couldn't help but pursue it?  It is a tenuous thesis, but I wonder if anyone has any experiences of adult shaking and associated drug seeking behavior?  
171768 tn?1324233699
what you describe your brother doing actually sounds like "stimming" behavior. You can look it up online and even see video clips of it. I am curious if that is what you describe.
2 years ago I worked with a 4 year old who exhibited stimming behavior when excited. He also had behavioral issues, that I and other professionals in the school were related to sensory processing problems. Some children with these problems/behaviors are clearly autistic, while others mildly autistic and others still have no problems other than sensory sensitivity. Those with just sensory problems may not appear to have anything wrong other than impulsive behavior, stimming quirks, etc... These children are often behavioral problems as well. Without proper therapies, these children can have many problems, and with proper therapies can be taught to cope on their own. If I had to guess, I's say that your brother's needs were undiagnosed and therefore he didn't receive any treatment. It is only recently that we are beginning to understand these conditions and how to help them. This is all just speculation of course, and there are many reasons why people turn to drugs. However, it is possible that he turned to drugs to help him cope with sensory issues, or why he had trouble stopping. It may have numbed the input a little. I only have very mild sensory issues (most of us do to a certain extent, i think). However, even with very milk sensory issues, i get very aggitated when there's background noises and such. As a child, I was extremely sensitive and cried all the time, and I suspect sensory issues contributed to it.
Avatar universal
Sounds like some of you may be describing a condition called Tics. In its severe state is Tourettes but can just be involuntary motor movements like fist clenching, jumping, blinking or even coughing.
My son has it I think and we are going to the ped this week. A nuerologist can't diagnose this by doing a scan, it son't show up.
Avatar universal
I wanted to post because I am experiencing the same thing several of you are describing.  About a week before my daughter turned 6 months old, she started something like what is being described.  

She stiffens her whole body, crosses her feet at the ankles and stretches them out, clenches her fists together and pulls them into her chest.  She stiffens up so much that she holds her breath when she does it for 3-5 seconds, then relaxes and then does it again.  If she has a toy in her hand, she'll pull the toy to her chest so tightly that her fingertips turn white.  

She only does it when she's lying down, either on her back or on her side.  Never when she's sitting up or on her belly.  She is easily distracted and will quit immediately if you talk to her, snap your fingers or clap.  It seems like she does it when she is bored.  If she's been playing on the floor for 30 minutes or so and is done, she'll do it then.  It happens at all times of the day (morning, noon, and night) and from what I can tell does not correspond to bowel movements.  If I do not distract her, she may do it on and off for 45 minutes.  She's even broken a sweat before from doing it.

My doctor first said it may be a seizure, but since she is easily distracted, does not think it is seizures.  She has recommended an eeg just to be safe.

She is now 7 1/2 months old and does this "thing" every day.  

Does anyone know if there is a formal diagnosis for this?  Will she grow out of it?
Avatar universal
To all who posted and anyone who may look at this in the future... I think I have "diagnosed" my daughter's behavior and wanted to post this.  However, do discuss your child's behavior with your doctor.

Below is a list of items I considered:
Sandifer's Syndrome
Benign Myoclonus of Infancy
benign infantile myoclonic epilepsy
Silent Reflux
Asbergers Syndrome
Cerebral Palsy
excitatory tremors
myclonic or tonic seizures
Sensory Processing Disorder
Infantile Spasms
Paroxysmal movement disorders
Tonic seizures

In a nut shell, what I believe is that my daughter's specific "action" is more of a self-fulfillment/self-gratification urge.  Its her way of exploring her body and muscles and joints and the deep pressure feelings she gets from tensing and releasing them.

Deep infant massage has been suggested to me as a way to give my daughter the feeling that she craves without her having to do this behavior.  

I would strongly suggest going to youtube and viewing the syndromes/items listed above so you can see exactly what an "infant spasm," etc... looks like.  Seizures are SERIOUS and can lead to long-term mental retardation if not taken care of immediately and I in no way want you to neglect your child's health based on what I've posted.  I would also STRONGLY recommend video taping the event, showing your child being easily distracted and show it to the doctor.

If you search for "infant self stimulation tightening" or "paroxysmal dystonic events" you will find a good deal of info on this.  

Below are some excerpts:

This activity was mistakenly attributed to abdominal pain or seizures, and prompted unnecessary diagnostic tests. The posturing began at 3 to 14 months and consisted stiffening of the lower extremities while lying on their sides or supine in three infant patients. The posturing was often accompanied by irregular breathing, facial flushing, and diaphoresis, and lasted less than a minute to hours at a time. Management consisted of convincing the parents of the harmless nature of the activity, which then lessened the reinforcing effect of their responses. The posturing subsided, in time, without medical or surgical treatment.

In all cases, the children were determined to have dystonia-like posturing during the event. Several features of the movements were identified and analyzed. These features included age of onset, color changes, features of the head/face, arm posture, leg posture, vocalization, pelvic movements, similarity from event to event, responsiveness during the episode, cessation with distraction, prior evaluation by a neurologist, previous testing, and results of the neurologic examination.

Little is available in the literature regarding long-term follow-up of children with this behavior. In a study on normal behavior in children, self-gratifying behavior that appeared most frequently included self-stimulating behaviors and peaked at 5 years of age for both boys and girls, dropping off over the next 7 years. For the most part, these children have normal development and the behaviors do subside.
We suggest a few practical points for management of this behavior:
1. Videotape the event in question. Not only will this facilitate diagnosis, but viewing it with the parents can help them realize that it is not a life-threatening event.
2. Help parents change their view of the child’s behavior as a disease. This is a normal behavior, and parents should view it as a harmless, nonpainful habit.
3. Scolding or threatening the child is not appropriate. Efforts to stop the behavior forcefully will only reinforce it and possibly instill a sense of shame or wrong-doing as the child gets older.
4. Redirection can be helpful. Engaging the child’s interest in other activities or toys can draw her attention away from the behavior.
5. As the child gets older, a milestone can be defined to end the behavior, at least in public. For instance, 1 parent used the child’s fourth birthday as an opportunity to tell the child, "Now you’re 4 and a big girl. Big girls don’t have to use diapers anymore. Big girls also don’t do ‘stretchies’ outside of the house. Let’s try to do our ‘stretchies’ at home."

I really hope this is helpful to someone, relieves worrying and saves your child from unnecessary and painful tests and/or medication.

Avatar universal
Just thought I would post an update of my daughter's situation at 18 month-old, following my post one year ago. Her "action" started when she was about 4 months old. I read lots of stories on internet, forums, looked on You Tube at all types of syndromes and I was really scared of what it could be. I took her to a specialist when she was 6 months old and did some tests and all came ok. I taped a few episodes and this was very useful for the doctor. As Jess describes in her thread, she was found as having a self-gratification behaviour, apparently quite popular with young babies. She advised me to try to gently stop her when she was doing that. It is not so easy though to stop this behaviour and she is still doing it, much less than before and mostly related with moments when she is tired and tries to sleep, or in pain from teething, as a way to comfort herself. She never had a dummy, so she might use this to comfort herself, too. If you do see any kind of behaviour at your child, I would recommend to go to the doctor, at least for your peace of mind. It did help me a lot to understand what it was and how to cope with this. My daughter is a very healthy and happy girl, but still gets into "her meditation" position from time to time. I still try to gently stop this when I see her doing it, distracting her, but sometimes she is really stubborn and continues to get back into her position and I know that forcing her to stop it would make things worse. I found this thread so useful and thank you all for posting your experiences. Wish all of you and your babies all the best!
Avatar universal
I've been researching this issue as my niece is portraying this behavior and I am worried about her.  She is now 3 but it is clear when she stiffens her legs & trembles she is doing so to self gratify herself.  My sister-in-law said she has been doing this since she was an infant and thinks it is "normal" and is especially noticeable when she is sleepy.  However, my husband and I and my 2 children (ages 2-1/2 & 5) were at a festival when my niece, sitting in the stroller next to my daughter, repeatedly exhibited this behavior throughout the entire day - to a point that was NOT normal.  I am a Behavior Therapist and work with children with a variety of developmental disabilities and delays.  I believe in early intervention in all aspects of behavior modification.  The best bit of advice I can give (although still not knowing the cause of this need for self gratifying behavior in young children) is that your child needs to know it is not ok to do in public. As infants exhibiting this behavior you obviously cannot control this.  But as a child gets older they need to know that performing self gratification in public is unacceptable.  Otherwise they will get older - 3, 4, 5 years old and eventually become ostracized for their "weird" behavior among their peers.  I am not saying make a child feel degraded or embarrassed, but if your child/grandchild/niece/nephew is doing this - they need to be spoken to about performing this internal "need" in private.  All I can say is after 1 day with my niece I was so disturbed that the day has not left my mind for 2 weeks.  My kids want to know why their cousin "sticks out her legs like that all the time" and I don't want to have to explain or lie to them every time they see her.  If you are having difficulty getting your toddler or older child to stop I suggest talking to your pediatrician.  You are doing them a disservice if you don't!
Avatar universal
That is shocking advice and extreamly harsh and I feel sorry for your niece that she has an aunt that sees this problem as an embarrasment and inconvinince to her.

My daughter is now 13 months old and has been doing this since she was 3 months old. She can have up to 15 episodes a day and I became very upset that it was something very very wrong with her. We have been seeing a specialist for the last 3 months and he had been treating her for severe reflux.  She was not improving so I demanded to see the head consultant.  

Luckily they agreed and he saw my daughter having one of these episodes.  Imediately he told us the name of the condition and told us it is very common in younger children.  The most important things he said:


He said that the falling to the floor on her back and putting one fist at the side of her head was the key indicators but there are many more.

He said that she is a happy and healthy little girl and that is all that matters, this will pass when she gets older.

I guess in perspective to children that have life threatening illnesses it really isn't that bad.
Avatar universal
I am writing this as I myself was clenching when I was a small kid... I gradually reduced doing this when I became aware that people will watch me. I would do this at school when no one else see me. None of my friends knew that I do this clenching. I am in 30s and still I do it sometimes. Only my parents and siblings knew this. When I was a kid my elder brother used to beat me when I clenched :)

I always wonder why I was clenching... I do when I am watching a game, I dream of the game and start doing it. I also do when I am much angry or much sad or much happy and I think of that too much and clench.

To ALL worried parents I would say your children will stop doing it when they grow up and realize that people/society/friends would think funny about them. No one person in my life other than my family knew about my clenching. Leave your kids as they are and stop worrying.
Avatar universal
What was the name of the condition the doctor identified?

Our daughter started the fist clenching and shaking at around 6 months and I would to be able to research it a little more.

Thank you for the help.
Avatar universal
NOTHING... this is a dx called gratification disorder or "infintile masturbation".... nobody can say if and when it goes away, but one thing is for sure.... it is not your baby or your fault and it can't be helped or stopped.... I've been told that my daughter will grow out of it, but after research, I'm not sure if she will or not, but one thing is for sure, my love for her will not waiver... we have been to many doctors, and have spent the weekend at the hospital hooked up to video eeg machines... there is nothing physically or mentaly wrong with my child... as a matter of fact, she has been labeled as being very "advanced" for her age... walking holding 1 hand at 6 months and on her own at 8 months.... held her head up perfectly at 2 1/2 months, and stood on her feet (full support) at 3 1/2 months, grabbed small objects at a very early age, etc. etc... you all get the idea, yet she does this "thing" often throughout the day...

The sad thing is, that there would be more research done if parents weren't so embarrassed by their babies actions and came forward. How could you be emabrrassed by your baby? I don't know... Point is, it is normal, they supposidly will grow out of it, and it's NOT THEIR FAULT!  There is nothing wrong with your baby..... I do try and get her attention when she is doing it, but during episodes when she seems determined, I let her be... when she is older, then yes, I will prevent it from being done in public, not because of my thoughts on the matter, but because of how cruel people can be (like the Aunt who posted above). Please, if you want to help others understand what this is, how it can be helped (if it can be) etc. talk to your doctor and others.... I would have loved to be able to go on the computer and google this and be able to say, honey, this is normal, our daughter has found a way to pleasure herself.... lol.... not put her through tons of painful tests thinking something was wrong with her. :)

Just saying... good luck everyone.
Avatar universal
  Reading the threads after my last post, it seems as if some people are describing slightly different behaviour than  Me2mommy2b's original thread, although maybe its all related. I said I would do an update at age 2, but because she never did it again after around 16 months, I forgot, until someone worried, e-mailed me the other day. Maybe me saying don't worry about it in my last thread was a bit disrespectful, to parents that do have problems with their child. Of course I would love my baby no matter what, and the important thing is we do our best for our kids, no matter what challenges they face. My aim was to draw attention to a common behaviour that can start at around 8 months, but will most likely get less and less noticeable ( if it is exactly the same thing that our baby did. )
That was tensing up, and slight shaking for around 2 seconds. Started around 8/9 months. Sometimes went 2 weeks not doing it, then sometimes 6 times in a day. It became less and less, until I was able to see she was taking everything in, and still functioning as she did it. It started to look less and less involuntary - less and less noticeable. I don't think I saw her do it after the age of 18 months, and she is 2 and a half now. As I said in a previous post, it ran in my partners family, but everyone grew out of it, and grew up to do well. So I would say, yes tell the doctor, tell the midwife, but be aware that from quite a few babies do it. I even saw Peter Andre's princess do it at around age 2 and a half on the next chapter :)
Avatar universal
Our daughter is exhibiting very similar behavior to that JessK described, but I'm not convinced it's stimming in our case.  I posted a YouTube video since it seems one description fits several cases.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJtL9-W2drU  or search for "infantile seizure catatonic"

They happen at any time, several times a day with no apparent correlation to feeding (eg. reflux), mood, diaper, etc., however, she seems to do it when she's bored or not entertained by an adult.  She can be "woken up" at any time by picking her up or sometimes just talking to her.

From a very alert state, she begins by contracting her arms, clenching her hands (sometimes as if she's praying) until the knuckles turn white.  Her mouth opens and the tongue protrudes slightly and is put to the roof of her mouth.  Usually she begins to drool excessively.  Our biggest concern is her eyes - they become dazed, unfocused and end either in a blank, (catatonic?) stare or she closes them completely.   After being "woken up" from this state she is usually excessively sweaty and begins to cry.

We have been to a Pediatric Clinic where they performed a number of blood tests, ultrasound and an EEG which was normal, however she didn't have an "episode" during the test.  Their suggestion was reflux, however we're not sure if that's 100% of the cause (there isn't an improvement with either breast milk or formula and she has these "fits" in slightly inclined positions).  Based on what we've read, we don't think it's Myoclonus (since there's no quick, jerky movements), Self-Stimmulation or stimming (since there's no repetitive arm movements, just clenching), or a real seizure since she can be brought out of it quickly.

Any ideas what this could be??
Avatar universal
I wanted to post again as my daughter is now just about 18 months.  She's a happy, healthy toddler who runs around and says about 60 different words.. she can count to 5, knows several letters, and sings "Twinkle, twinkle little star" endlessly!  :) Her "thing" has definitely morphed over the last year.  Once she started crawling and then walking, it totally changed and lessened dramatically.  She still clenches her fists and crosses her legs, but she only does it before she goes to sleep at night or before naps.... and she really only does it for 2 or 3 minutes.  Its her way of putting herself to sleep I guess.  The only other trace of it happens when she is angry or really excited... when she's standing up, she'll put her hands on the couch, chair, wall, etc and cross her legs and squeeze them in an 'X'.  I just tell her to "Stand up straight please" and then redirect her.  

So, has it totally disappeared... no.  Has it changed... yes.  Do I wish she didn't do it... yes.  But, there are a million things that could be worse.  I just hope that as she gets older, if she is still doing it, I can teach her to control it in public settings.

We did have an eeg done at around 9 months and it was normal.

Poppy, I watched your video and it is similar, but not exactly the same as what my daughter did.  She kind of stared off like that too, but her eyes never rolled like your daughter's.  As long as you showed the video to your Dr and had the tests, I would just keep an eye on it.  DD's "thing" got worse before it got better.  Crawling and then walking were the real turning points as to when she stopped doing it during the day.
Avatar universal
Hopefully someone finds my continued posting here useful... Anyway, DD is just about to turn 24 months.  Her leg crossing/fist clenching stopped COMPLETELY at around 21 months.  She didn't do it one time in almost 3 months!!!  Not even to put herself to sleep.

Then, randomly, last week, she started doing it again.  No more fist clenching, just leg crossing.  She does it when she's standing and less often when sitting.  Some days, she does it a ton, some days, its just every now and again.  I'm not sure what to make of it, but definitely feel it is behavioral since she quit doing it completely for 3 months.  She stops as soon as I tell her to stand up straight.  I'll post again in 6 months or so to updated on what's changed.
Avatar universal
Oh, I did want to add, that other than this "tendancy", she is progressing so amazingly.  I read in the "What to expect book" that at 24 months, most children say between 50 and 75 words.  I made a list that is well over 300 words.  She speaks in sentences, sings more songs than I can count, counts past 10, knows some shapes and colors, is well behaved (well, as well behaved as a 2 yr old can be!) and is just overall the joy of my life.

The ONLY thing that I can think of that may be at all related is teething... I think 2 yr molars are due about now, and I'm wondering if that has anything to do with the tendancy coming back.
Avatar universal
Update at 3 years and 2 months. She actually still gives a very little shake when she is really really  excited, but its just how you and me might shake. It happened the other day when a jack in the beanstalk colouring book came through the post. Well if I won £500 on a scratch card, I am sure I might tense slightly. Happens so rarely that I dont even look for it any more, yet way back at 8 months old, I was thinking it was some sort of seizure and not sleeping. Again I am not talking about the behaviour directly above. Our baby just tensed and shook / shivered for approx 1-2 seconds, sometimes 6 times in a day, and then not for a week. Just for mothers who are worried about the original posters behaviour. Our lo did not cross her legs and isnt self gratifying herself. It was just an excitement thing, running in my maybe partners family, but not affecting anything and something you grow out of. I am only posting, as the original p[oster didnt keep updating, and I remember wishing she had when I was so worried at 8 months old.
Avatar universal
okay, really random seeing as i am 17 and all, BUT i used to do this when i was little. there is this photo of me doing it... so i asked my mom, and she said that they had been really worried and took me to the neurologist, who found nothing. so i carried on doing it for while, when i had for instance painted a picture - i would step back, clench my fists and tense up my arms, open my mouth real wide.. people thought i was having a fit or something. i used to do it when i made stuff, or saw something i liked. anyway, i started when i was like 1, did it for a while. it calmed down as i grew up. i stopped opening my mouth and looking crazy... i do actually remember it though, it lasted for long enough for me to know what i was doing. but the whole mouth thing was only when i was very young. as i got a little older i just tended to sort of flex my arms, or tense my wrists. haven't done it for years now. just to confirm, there is nothing wrong with me. i get good grades and have a boyfriend and all that... haha. (: just saw this when wondering why i did it.. and thought you might like some peace of mind.
Avatar universal
My 2yr old and my 1yr old niece did and still do that now. its normal for them to do weird things when they are little because to them it helps them cope or deal with what is going on around or in them. if the docs says she is fine (and you went to specialists who say she is fine) then i would say she is perfectly fine. the best advise i can give you and your sister is to relax and enjoy them time with her cuz at some age she will not want to be around adults cuz she will want to be her own person. they grow so fast and you dont want to miss out on the cute times now. good luck and have fun. :)
Avatar universal
My daughter is 10 mths now, she also does the fist clenching and tenses her whole body for about 3 secs.  She usually does it when she is excited about what she is doing or maybe watching a favourite movie.  I havent taken her to the Doctor about it, but have done some research on the web.  She is also teething, this seems to be the link between all the cases i have read.  I know she is happy and healthy and very content.
Avatar universal
hello i understand your concern i think i mite have the same problem with my daughter but this started at 2month when she was in the hospital i tought it was a fade and will past now that she is about to turn 10 month i am really worried for her its scares me
Avatar universal
It may be reflux ('ger' or 'gerd') related - if baby does have reflux (sometimes reflux is silent), and tenses up, baby might have Sandifer's Syndrome.

Would be wise to also rule out Infantile Spasms, as this is quite dangerous. Sandifer's Syndrome is often confused for infantile spasms and/or seizures.
Avatar universal
How did this work out for you? I'm so interested because my daughter has the SAME exact symptoms and i'm wondering how your little one is doing now. Fine I'm sure but hopefuly you can sooth my fears! thanks so much
Avatar universal
Another update... DD will be 3 in one month and I just wanted to post that her leg crossing/tensing behavior has all but completely stopped.  We battled with some major constipation issues from 2yrs 2mo to 2yrs 9mo, and the leg crossing became associated with her trying to "hold it in".  In February (2yrs 4mo) we went to see both a behavioral therapist and a neurologist just so I could have some piece of mind.  The BT called her action a "coping mechanism" and said it was no different than sucking her thumb and the Neuro called it a "stereotype" and said that at 6mo it was definitely self gratification.  Basicially, it is a comfort habit.  For the last 2 or 3 months, she has probably done it 2 times total.... I'm just posting this because I know what a complete wreck I was when she first started doing it, and now, I know that everything is fine!  Actually, so much better than fine... I know all parents must think this about their kids, but I swear, she's a genious.. she's so smart, social, funny and again, just an overall joy.  Its just an unusual habit that she's outgrown.  Oh, and agree or not, but the BT told us to use positive reinforcement (aka bribing) to get her to stop, and it worked like a charm when she was doing it a lot.  Best of luck dealing with this... i will post in another year if anything changes.  
Avatar universal
I hope this helps everyone. I have a 6 month old doing the same thing. I originaly started to worry but I actually remember doing this as a child myself. I believe I was around 4 or 5 years old, but according to my mother I had been doing this for a long period of time beforehand, this is just when I have the memory of it. I would clench my fists and tighten all of the muscles in my body. I remember having the feeling of having an extreme amount of energy and not knowing what to do with it. It was just a way to release this energy... I hope that helps. As mentioned above it probably is just a reaction to the developing nervous system. I obviously stopped doing it and I'm a healthy 33 year old... So no worries everyone. Don't run out and get a CAT scan!!
Avatar universal
My 1 year old has just started doing this too. He does it after doing a boisterous point at something then his arm folds in with fist clenched and he stiffens up and does a little shake for a couple of seconds. So relieved to read that it is quite common. I'm not sure if he's teething at present bit it's very likely as he's biting my shoulder a couple of times a day! Thanks for all of the very helpful posts :) I'm thinking if it's not teeth related its possible a slight magnesium deficiency could be responsible as this mineral extremely important for relaxing muscle tissue and also the nervous system. I'm a naturopath so will begin with supplementation ASAP and will advise if any results.
Avatar universal
hi, my son is ten months old. He started doing this last month. It used to be a few times a week but now its constant. He seems to clench his jaw, tighten up and shake a little. He seems to do it when hes excited or frustrated. I took him to neaurologist who didnt seem concerned. Would you be worried?
Avatar universal
Update at age 5 years and one month.
Never saw it again. I will always post, as I remember being so worried at 8 months old that she was having some sort of seizure. Her body would tense and she would shake for about a second as if she was cold. It hjappened when she was excited, but when she started doing it a few times a day, I remember wishing the original poster would have kept us uptodate. Well she grew out of it. She is now top of her class at reading and doing well. I guess she just couldnt show her excitement.  Of course check with the doctor and never take the advice of internet users, but my guess is he will say dont worry.    
Avatar universal
I have been through this experience.  When my first son was 10 months he would clench his fists, arms outstretched, and face grimace.  This would happen a few times in succession.  My wife and I freaked out.  His doctor told us it wasn't seizures.  He said he'd still refer us to a child neurologists if we wanted.  Of course we did.  I was able to capture the behaviors on video and we showed the neurologist.  She didn't seem too concerned but he was still tested with wires all over his head over a weekend.  Everything came back normal.  Weeks would go by without him doing it and then all of a sudden they'd return.  Over time they just disappeared.  Now my second son started doing it at 11 months old.  The same exact thing.  We know that it's highly likely it will go away, but still it was a little heartbreaking to see.  We just didn't want to have to go through it all over again.  So my advice is that if it concerns you enough, have your child tested.  Be concerned, but don't panic.  It will go away.
Avatar universal
I realize this is an old post but my son is 7 months old and is having the exact episodes as you describe, it seems to really bother him. We've had an EEG done in hospital and confirmed it's not neurological and we've done an upper GI to confirm it's not reflux or anatomical spasms...how old was your son when it went away? Were you able to relieve his discomfort at all? Thanks.
Avatar universal
The updates on this post are sooo appreciated! We thought our daughter was having seizures. EEG came back completely normal. Holding breath, scrunching face, clenched fists, shaking (almost looked like she was straining to poop).. my mind has been eased after reading through these comments. Thank you all so much for taking the time to come back and update.
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