Rooting Reflex and Other Newborn Reflexes

A Guide to Your Infant's Involuntary Movements

Newborn. Christopher Furlong / Staff / Getty Images

Even if you're a first-time parent, you've likely seen the rooting reflex in action. All you would have to do is stroke a newborn's cheek and he'd automatically open his mouth and turn his head toward the side that was stroked.

This rooting or "root" reflex is one of the many involuntary movements and actions that are normal for newborns. This one helps your baby find the breast or bottle to begin feeding.

As your child matures, this reflex will disappear by age 4 months. And, in fact, if an infant does not outgrow the rooting reflex as well as other responses, it could signal brain or nervous system damage.

Understanding Your Baby's Reflexes

Infant reflexes help your newborn transition to life and learn what he needs to survive. If your little one has not displayed the rooting reflex, along with these involuntary motions below, call your pediatrician.

  • Moro reflex (or startle reflex) causes the baby to extend the arms, legs and fingers and arch when startled by a loud noise or other environmental stimulus. The reflex typically disappears between the ages of 3 to 6 months.
  • Sucking reflex is probably one of the most important newborn reflexes, especially when paired with the rooting reflex. If you touch the roof of your baby’s mouth with your finger, a pacifier or a nipple, he will instinctively begin sucking. Around 2 to 3 months of age, your baby’s sucking will be a conscious effort and no longer a reflex.
  • Stepping reflex allows the baby to put one foot in front of the other when you place his feet on a flat surface. This isn't really walking and will disappear by about 4 months of age.
  • Palmar grasp allows the baby to "hold" your hand. When you touch the palm of your baby's hand, the fingers will curl around and cling to your finger or an object. This reflex disappears around 6 months of age.
  • Plantar grasp (or Babinski reflex) occurs when you stroke the sole of your baby's foot. You'll notice his toes spread open and the foot will turn slightly inward. It's usually gone by the end of the first year.
  • Tonic Neck reflex (or fencing reflex) happens when you place your baby on his back. It allows the infant to assume the "fencing position." His head will turn with the arm and leg of one side extended (the pair on the side he’s turned toward) and his other arm and leg will be flexed. This reflex is present only until about 4 months of age.

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