Life for new parents is full of surprises, but you may not have aniticipated these seemingly strange newborn reflexes (sometimes knowns as primtive reflexes). Wonder why your newborn baby sometimes flails her arms out suddenly in her sleep, perhaps even waking herself up in the process? It’s due to a natural reflex instilled within your baby. By understanding your newborn’s natural reflexes, you gain insight into her amazing world. We give you the lowdown on newborn reflexes, what they look like, and what they mean.
What is It? Your baby is born with the instinctive ability to root around for milk. She responds to being touched by turning toward the source of the touch. For example, when she’s placed on your chest, expect your baby to move her head and sometimes open and close her mouth, demonstrating this reflex. If you place a finger on her cheek, she will turn toward your finger and open her mouth. Rooting is helpful becuase it is an early sign of hunger, so if you see your baby rooting, try to feed her as soon as possible. Having skin to skin contact is a great way to stimulate your baby’s rooting and sucking reflexes.
How Long Does it Last? After about three weeks your baby will stop turning her head from side to side whenever she feels a touch. She will simply turn her head into the right position to suck.
What is It? The sucking reflex is your baby’s instinctive need to suck and gain nutrition in order to survive and thrive. When something touches the roof of your baby's mouth, she will instictively suck. This helps her breastfeed, and bottle-feed to take in nutrients. Although this is reflexive, not all babies will suck efficiently at first; it may take some practice.
How Long Does it Last? This reflex is repressed around 6 months of age. This means it ceases to be instictive and becomes voluntary when your baby's central nervous system has developed.
Moro or Startle Reflex
What is It? This is one of the most noticeable newborn reflexes. Your baby will suddenly extend his arms and legs and then bring them close to his body in reaction to something that startles him, like a sudden noise. This reflex can sometimes cause baby to wake himself up. For example, if he hears a noise and his reflex causes his arms to come into contact with the side of his bassinet this could be enough to disturb his sleep. If this happens, usually a reassuring cuddle is enough to help him fall back to sleep.
How Long Does it Last? The Moro reflex usually disappears around 3 – 4 months.
What is It? You may have noticed the cute way your newborn holds your finger when you place it in her hand. This is down to the grasp reflex, which means that stroking or touching the palm of your baby’s hand causes her to close her hand. Keeping your baby close to you and letting her grasp your finger is a great way to develop a close bond with your newborn.
How Long Does it Last? This reflex will dissapear after a couple of months, although it is stronger in preemies.
Step or Dance Reflex
What is It? Have you noticed when you hold your baby in an upright position and allowe her feet touch a surface below her, she makes stepping movements with her feet? This is because of the step or dance reflex, also sometimes called the walking reflex.
How Long Does it Last? This reflex lasts until around 11 weeks of age and isn’t related to the actual walking your baby will develop much later.
Tonic Neck Reflex
What is It? This reflex occurs when Baby’s head is turned to one side. The arm on the side she’s facing will automatically straighten out, away from her body, and her arm will bend. This is sometimes known as the fencer’s position because it resembles the way fencers stand.
How Long Does It Last? The tonic reflex occirs form birth through about 6 to 7 months.
What is It? As you stroke the sole of your baby’s foot, from heel to toe, you may notice her big toe bends backwards and her other toes spread out.
How Long Does it Last? This reflex usually lasts until your baby is between one and two years of age. If you give your baby a massage you might well see this reflex in action as you gentle massage her little feet.