Newborn reflexes are involuntary movements that help your baby interact with the world around them. They disappear over time, but many remain for weeks and months.
Reflexes are very helpful for parents to become familiar with their child’s motor development, as they allow you to see how your child responds to stimuli at different ages.
The 7 Newborn Reflexes That Protect Your Child
Newborn reflexes help your baby recognize danger and protect themselves by either moving away from it or shutting it down completely.
Reflexes can be seen in the first few months of life and can vary from one baby to another, depending on their temperament. The following are some of the significant newborn reflexes:
Healthy newborns perform an oral activity automatically called the “rooting reflex.” Rooting reflexes are essential to infant survival. When your child has this response, they can latch onto a bottle or your breast and start feeding.
A light peck on the inside corner of your baby’s lips with your nipple should trigger them to move their heads toward the breast. With their mouths open, they should make tongue-thrusting or sucking motions. This newborn reflex prompts feeding during the infant’s first few weeks. When your baby is hungry and wants to be fed, it can communicate with you more easily through the rooting reflex.
While still inside of its mother’s womb, a child’s sucking reflex forms. The 32nd week of pregnancy is the earliest point at which it can appear. The baby has typically reached its maximum developmental potential by week 36. This reaction might be visible during a regular ultrasound. When infants suck on their thumbs or hands, they are making progress in developing this vital skill.
Preterm babies might not have a robust sucking response when born. They may also need more stamina to finish a feeding session. Premature babies often require supplemental assistance in the form of feeding tubes, which are placed through the nose and into their stomachs. Preterm babies may take several weeks to synchronize sucking and swallowing, but most can do so given some time.
Startle Reflex (Moro reflex)
The startle reflex is an infant’s natural response when they become accustomed to life outside the womb and react to novel, often loud, stimuli. After three or four months, it will generally go away by itself.
You won’t need to go out of your way to test this reaction because there is a good chance that it will be triggered accidentally.
The Moro reflex causes a baby to thrust their arms and legs before them and swiftly bring them back toward their chest. This is typically by a sudden loud noise or movement.
Swaddling limits movement and creates a womb-like environment that reduces the startle reflex. A baby swaddle is designed to help your baby adjust to the outside world.
Fencing Reflex (Tonic Neck)
Approximately 18 weeks after conception, the tonic neck reflex will become active. The related motions begin when the baby is still in the mother’s uterus. It is one of the primary reflexes that can be identified the quickest. It stays with your child until they are 5 to 7 months old.
The tonic neck reflex is believed to assist your baby in going down the delivery canal as they are born. In addition, the tonic neck reflex can assist your newborn in learning to use their hands and build hand-eye coordination in the first few weeks after birth.
It’s common practice to refer to the tonic neck reaction as the fencing reflex. When your infant is lying down and turning their head to the right or left, the arm corresponding to their head’s direction will stretch. In contrast, the arm next to their head will bend. This gives the impression of imitating a fencing stance.
Grasp Reflex (Palmar Grasp)
The palmar grip reflex is one of the newborn reflexes that manifests shortly after delivery. Using this response, your child can grasp objects using his or her palms and fingers. Hence, a child will make a fist around anything you place in their hand and grip it tightly.
A baby’s palmar grip reflex, like many other involuntary movements, originated to help them grasp nearby objects or prepare to eat. Plantar reflexes are analogous to palmar reflexes.
Babinski Sign (Plantar Reflex)
The Babinski reflex occurs when the bottom of the foot is stimulated. The toes should curl upward when the Babinski reflex is triggered. It can help medical professionals diagnose neurological issues in patients older than two years. If your baby has a normal response, the toes should curl downward (no Babinski reflex).
There may be an issue with the corticospinal tract, also known as the CST if there is a Babinski reflex. The corticospinal tract (CST) is an important pathway that connects your brain to your spinal cord, allowing you to control your movements.
As a crucial part of the central nervous system, the CST is typically included in a comprehensive neurological checkup to ensure its proper function. As the Babinski reflex test evaluates potential abnormalities in the CST, a positive result may indicate neurological conditions.
You will have followed the stepping reflex when holding your infant upright and observing movement in their legs. If you hold your infant upright directly above a level surface, your baby may reach for the surface with their legs if you do so.
Watch as your infant puts one foot down, pulls the second one up, and then puts the first back down. Your little one is likely attempting to take their first steps.
Your infant is not attempting to walk at this point, but their motion is similar to our legs’ movement when we walk. The stepping reflex is your baby’s response to a specific stimulus, but it also shows that part of the brain recognizes the actions needed to walk.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are newborn reflexes?
Newborn reflexes are automatic movements that babies make as a result of the stimulation. The spinal cord mainly controls them, so they don't require much thought or effort on your baby's part.
Why are reflexes so crucial to survival?
Reflexes are essential for survival because they help you respond to your environment. Babies don't have much control over their bodies—they can't walk, talk, or make decisions the way they will later in life. Reflexes help you interact with the world around you and develop essential skills that let you get around, like crawling or grasping things.
When will my baby’s newborn reflexes disappear?
Most newborn reflexes disappear within the first four to six months of life. Babies are born with involuntary reflexes, but as their brain develops, their central nervous system gradually replaces these with voluntary actions.
Newborn reflexes are a fascinating window into the developing nervous system. They are a critical part of your baby’s first few weeks of life and help ensure it can move and react quickly in response to outside stimuli.
Most newborn reflexes are present at birth and disappear over time, but some may last until your child reaches school age. These reflexes are essential to watch out for because they tell you if your newborn is healthy and growing normally.