How Newborn Reflexes Help Babies Survive

8 Amazing Ways in Which Your Baby Protects Itself

Startle Reflex in the Newborn
This baby is showing the startle reflex. Photo © H. Snow

Your newborn baby is an amazing creature. The many reflexes he's born with help transition him into a life outside the womb, and teach him what he needs in order to survive. 

What Are Some of the Newborn Reflexes Keeping My Baby Safe?

Moro Reflex: When you fail to support or hold your baby's neck and head, his arms will thrust outward and then seem to embrace themselves as his fingers curl. This reflex disappears after about two months.

It is also known as the startle reflex.

Palmar Grasp: When you touch the palm of your baby's hand, the fingers will curl around and cling to your finger. This is a good reflex from which to learn hand holding.

Plantar Grasp: This reflex occurs when you stroke the sole of your baby's foot, causing his toes to spread open and the foot to turn slightly inward. It is also known as the Babinski reflex. This reflex is fun to watch. By the end of the first year, this reflex is usually gone.

Sucking: While you may not believe this to be reflexive, it is. This ensures that your baby will nurse on a breast or bottle. It is slowly replaced by voluntary sucking around 2 months of age.

Rooting Reflex: When you stroke your baby's cheek, she will turn toward you, usually looking for food. This is very useful when learning to breastfeed your baby. You may also notice this occurs when your baby accidentally brushes her own face with her hands.

It can sometimes be a source of frustration if your baby flails her arms during feedings. Simply using a blanket to pin her arms closer to her body during feeding may help. This reflex is gone by about 4 months of age. 

Stepping Reflex: If you take your baby and place his feet on a flat surface, he will "walk" by placing one foot in front of the other.

This isn't really walking, and will disappear by about 4 months of age.

Tonic Neck Reflex: This is also called the fencing reflex, because of the position the baby assumes. When you lay your baby on her back and her head turns to one side, she will extend her arm and leg on that side while the opposite arm and leg bend, assuming a "fencing" position. This reflex is present only until about the fourth month.

Swimming: If you were to put a baby under 6 months of age in water, they would move their arms and legs while holding their breath. This is why some families believe in swim training for very little babies. It is not recommended for you to test this reflex at home for obvious safety reasons.

Your baby will have his or her reflexes tested shortly after birth. Absence of or weak reflexes can be caused by birth trauma, medications, illness, etc. Talk to your pediatrician if you have concerns about your baby's reflexes, or ask them to show you during a newborn exam the amazing feats of your new baby.

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