Newborn Reflexes


Lord of Penmai
Jul 5, 2011
Newborn Reflexes

Babies are pretty darn smart right from the start. In fact, from day one they instinctively know how to grasp a finger and root for the breast, along with several other reflexes that your baby’s pediatrician will check on his first day or two of life (and at subsequent well-baby checkups). These include:

Root reflex

  • Trigger: A gentle stroke on the newborn’s cheek
  • Response: Baby turns toward the touch, with mouth open
  • Duration: Until baby is three to four months old (sometimes, babies continue doing this in their sleep past four months old)
  • Reason: Helps baby find food

Suck reflex

  • Trigger: Something, such as a nipple (breast or bottle) or parent’s finger, touching roof of baby’s mouth
  • Response: Baby sucks on nipple
  • Duration: Three to four months
  • Reason: Helps baby eat

Moro reflex (also called startle reflex)

  • Trigger: Loud noise (even baby’s own cry!), sudden movement, or sensation of falling
  • Response: Baby cries and extends legs, arms, and fingers, arches back, then retracts arms and legs
  • Duration: Until baby is four to six months old
  • Reason: Baby’s first attempts to protect himself from harm
  • If baby startles himself awake: Try swaddling him to make him feel more secure

Babinski’s reflex

  • Trigger: A gentle stroke on the sole of the foot (from heel to toe)
  • Response: Foot turns in and toes flare up
  • Duration: Six to 24 months
  • Reason: Perhaps an attempt to protect against falling
Walking (or stepping) reflex

  • Trigger: Holding baby upright with his feet on a flat surface
  • Response: Baby lifts one foot, then the other, as if walking
  • Duration: About two months
  • Reason: May prepare baby developmentally for walking several months from now
Tonic neck reflex

  • Trigger: Lying on his back with head turned to one side
  • Response: The arm on that side extends, while the opposite arm bends at the elbow (a “fencing” position)
  • Duration: About six months (sometimes not present until two months of age)
  • Reason: May prepare baby developmentally for voluntary reaching later

Grasp (or palmar grasp) reflex

  • Trigger: Pressing a finger or other object, such as a rattle, into baby’s palm
  • Response: Baby makes a fist and tries to grab finger
  • Duration: Three to four months
  • Reason: May prepare baby developmentally for voluntary grasping later
  • Fun fact: Baby’s grip can be strong enough to support his entire body weight
You can try to elicit these reflexes at home, but don’t be alarmed if your baby doesn’t cooperate — you might not be performing the stimulus perfectly, or your baby might be too tired or hungry to respond. If you try several times on different days without getting the expected result, check in with the pediatrician.

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