A baby grasping their parent's finger as part of their many reflexes.

Your newborn’s reflexes

When Baby is born, he is equipped with a certain number of natural reflexes or survival skills to help him through the first few months.

Reflexes and your baby: Learn the types

These reflexes are different than yours, and many of them are necessary for basic functions like eating. Many of these twitches, jerks, and movements will disappear in a few months when he no longer needs them. Checking these out can be a fun way to play with Baby and make sure his development is going smoothly.

  • Rooting: This movement helps Baby to latch on to feed, and can be triggered by a gentle stroke on his cheek. A newborn will turn towards the touch with his mouth open and begin to make sucking movements. Unfortunately, the rooting reflex doesn’t mean that Baby instinctively knows how to latch – like you, if you’re breastfeeding him, Baby needs to learn the skills he needs to breastfeed, just like you do. Rooting helps Baby find food, though, so it’s an important tool for when he is still learning how to latch on and feed. Once he gets the hang of eating, the reflex starts to disappear, and is usually gone after 3 to 4 months.
  • Moro: If you sit Baby upright and then suddenly lay him back down again, he will put out those little arms and legs and may even begin crying. Loud noises also trigger this reflex, because it is Baby’s attempt to protect himself from harm. The Moro reflex should last 3 to 6 months, and after that, it will evolve into the adult startle reflex, which is why many sources call the Moro reflex the startle reflex in babies as well.
  • Walking: If you hold Baby in an upright position, with his feet pointed towards the floor, you might get a lot more than you bargained for as he tries to walk months before he is ready by placing one foot in front of the other when those tiny toes touch the floor. This reflex prepares him developmentally for walking, but disappears around 2 months because he is not physically ready to walk.
  • Grasp: The grasp reflex is the one that has Baby holding your hand years before he&;s ready to cross the street – when you press your hand or an object into Baby‘s palm and trigger the grasp reflex, he will grab your finger and hold on tight. This allows him skin to skin contact and prepares him for voluntary grasping later in life. The grasp reflex generally subsides within 3 or 4 months.
  • Tonic neck: The tonic neck reflex is a little harder to recognize than some of the other reflexes, and is triggered if, while Baby lies on his back, his head turns to the right, which makes his right arm shoot out in front, and his other arm raise above his head. It may look like Baby is drawing a tiny, invisible bow to shoot tiny, invisible arrows. This reflex should prepare him developmentally for voluntary reaching and helps him focus on his outstretched hand. The tonic neck reflex might last 4 to 5 months.

Sources
  • “Infant reflexes.” MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine, February 7 2017. Web.
  • “Newborn-Reflexes.” Stanford Children’s. Stanford Medicine. Web.
  • “Newborn Reflexes.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, August 1 2008. Web.

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