Reflexes in Newborn Babies and Infants

Did you know? Many of your newborn's actions are actually reflexes! Interesting, right? These neonatal reflexes are nothing but reactions that occur automatically. These newborn reflexes can include everything your baby does, right from stepping up and down as you hold her above a surface to her turning her face as you stroke her cheek.

You would be surprised to know that your baby is born with these automatic reflexive responses. Some reflexes, like the tongue thrust reflex, last for months, while others, like the Moro reflex, can disappear in a matter of weeks. Keep reading to understand everything about the most common infant reflexes.

What Are the Different Types of Baby Reflexes?

A reflex is an automatic response your baby has to stimuli. For example, if you put your finger in her mouth, she will suck on it, or if she sees a bright light, she will shut her eyes.

A reflex means that your baby is reacting involuntarily and not choosing a certain behaviour. It's not just babies who have reflexes—adults have them, too. But this article focuses on some of the reflexes that babies have.

Rooting Reflex

Your baby is born with the rooting reflex, which is what helps him find your nipple when breastfeeding for the first time To see this "looking-for-the-nipple" reflex in action, simply stroke his cheek or mouth with your finger, and he will automatically turn his head toward your hand.

At first, your baby may root from side to side when breastfeeding, turning his head toward your nipple and then away, but by 3 weeks old, he'll know to turn in the right direction and position himself to suck at your nipple. He will also do this with the nipple of a bottle if you're bottle-feeding him.

Sucking Reflex

Your baby develops the sucking reflex even before she is born. If you had an ultrasound while you were pregnant, you may have seen your baby sucking on her thumb while still in the womb.

Once your baby is born, she'll automatically start sucking when your nipple is placed in her mouth or when it touches the roof of her mouth. If you're giving her formula or expressed breast milk from a bottle, this reflex happens in response to the nipple of the bottle, too.

Sucking is actually a very complex skill for a newborn, so despite it being a reflex, some babies don't suck efficiently at first. Over time, they get the hang of it.

Moro Reflex

Moro reflex is a startle response often seen during the baby's first months. In Moro reflex, newborns tightly clench their fists, drawing up their knees while bringing their arms and re-clenched fists close to their body. This response lasts for only a few seconds after the startle.

If your baby's head falls back abruptly or if he is startled, you will notice him responding by throwing his arms and legs outward, extending his neck, and quickly bringing his arms together. He may also cry. This is quite normal, as it's your baby's first attempt to protect himself. If your baby is scared or cries, swaddle him to make him feel secure.

This reflex usually disappears when your baby is around 2 months old. However, since every infant is unique, sometimes this reflex disappears around 3 months, while for others, it disappears around 4 to 6 months. If you notice any abnormalities in the Moro reflex between the doctor's visit, contact your baby's paediatrician right away.

Reflexive Smile

In your baby's first month, you may notice that she smiles in her sleep. This is often referred to as a reflexive smile because it's a response to an internal stimulus. These are not yet those "real" smiles you're eagerly awaiting, which will happen in response to something your baby finds interesting or amusing.

During the second month, though, your little one may start smiling back at you when she is up and awake. These are "true" smiles that you might see when you make a silly face or give your baby a little tickle.

Be patient while the reflexive smiles are still happening. It won't be long before they're replaced with the real thing—that adorable gummy grin—and you'll love seeing how happy you make her when you smile at her.

Tonic Neck Reflex

The tonic neck reflex, also known as the fencing posture, is a pretty simple but funny reflex. If your baby turns her head to one side, she will automatically straighten the arm on the same side, bending the opposite arm as if she were fencing. En garde!

This reflex doesn't happen for every baby, and if your baby happens to be crying, she may not exhibit this reflex. The tonic neck reflex usually disappears completely when she's about 5 to 7 months old

Grasp Reflexes

Stroke the inside of your baby's hand or the bottom of his foot, and you'll see this reflex in action. He'll grasp your finger with his hand (palmar grasp) or curl the toes of his foot (plantar grasp).

Your baby's handgrip is quite strong. If you put a rattle in his hand, he will hold on tight! And there's nothing like the feeling of him curling his fingers around your finger in a vice-like grip.

Just be aware that this is a reflex, and your baby can let go at any time. This means he may drop his rattle or let go of your finger without notice.

The palmar grasp starts to disappear when your baby is about 5 to 6 months old. The plantar grasp usually disappears around the time your baby is 9 to 12 months old.

Stepping Reflex

You may be surprised to see your baby stepping in her first two months whenever you hold her under her arms (while supporting her head, of course). While holding her in this position, as soon as the bottoms of her feet touch a flat surface, she'll start stepping up and down. It may even look like she's walking on air!

Remember that this is just a reflex and isn't a sign that your little one is getting ready to start walking. You'll have to wait a while longer for those true first steps.

Tongue Thrust Reflex

Babies are born with the tongue-thrust reflex. If you try to insert something into your baby's mouth (like a spoon, for example), she will push against it with her tongue.

This reflex disappears when your little one is about 4 to 5 months old.

A Glance at Your Baby's Reflexes

This table provides a handy summary of certain reflexes you might observe in your baby. Remember that every baby is different, so the timing of these reflexes may vary.

Watching your baby's different reflexes evolve into more deliberate actions over time is surely going to be exciting and interesting. Enjoy the time of watching your baby grow and develop right in front of your eyes.

Want to know what else is in store? Discover more about your baby's growth and development here.

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