Newborn Reflexes: What You Need to Know

Newborn reflexes, also known as baby reflexes or infant reflexes, are normal and are crucial for a baby’s survival. They are the baby’s muscle reactions, involuntary movements or neurological responses to stimulation or triggers which may include sound, light, sudden movement and being stroked or touched.

Why Are Reflexes Important?

Doctors and nurses check baby reflexes to determine if a baby’s brain and nervous system are functioning properly. If you notice abnormal reflexes in your child, please see a doctor as these may indicate a dysfunction in the central nervous system.

What Are the Different Types of Newborn Reflexes?

There are many different types of newborn reflexes. You will notice many of them as you interact with your baby, and they can be really cute and fun to watch. Some reflexes only occur in specific periods of the baby’s development, but some can stay for years, all the way through adulthood. It’s good to note though that some adults who have brain damage or who have experienced stroke may experience baby reflexes as well.

The seven most common types of newborn reflexes are as follows:

  1. Moro Reflex

    Babies usually exhibit a full Moro reflex which includes the arms, head and legs in their first 12 weeks after birth. Also called the startle reflex, Moro reflex usually occurs when a baby gets startled by a loud sound, sudden movement or intense light. As a response to the trigger, the baby suddenly lifts the arms and legs, curl them back toward the body and then throw the head back. Your baby's own cry may also startle him/her and trigger the Moro reflex.

    Some babies experience an abnormal Moro reflex which only involves one side of the body. Other babies may have no Moro reflex at all. Some causes of an abnormal or absent Moro reflex may include infections, muscle weakness, injuries from childbirth, peripheral nerve damage and spastic cerebral palsy.

    When Does the Startle Reflex Go Away?

    The Moro or startle reflex usually lasts until the baby is about five to six months old.

  2. Rooting Reflex

    This newborn reflex begins by touching or stroking the corner of the baby's mouth or when it touches the mother’s skin or nipple. When triggered, you will notice that the baby will turn his/her head and open his/her mouth to follow and "root" in the direction of the stroking. The rooting reflex helps the baby find the breast or bottle and also helps prepare him/her to suck.

    When Does the Rooting Reflex Go Away?

    The rooting reflex in babies usually lasts for about four months. After that, rooting becomes a voluntary response rather than a reflex.

  3. Sucking Reflex

    This type of reflex usually starts when the baby is about 32 weeks inside the mother’s womb. If you’re pregnant, you may see your baby sucking his/her thumbs or hands during an ultrasound. When the baby is born, the sucking reflex happens in two stages. First, when the roof of the mouth is stimulated or when you place the mother’s breast or a bottle in his/her mouth, the baby will place the lips over the nipple and squeeze it between the tongue and roof of the mouth. Next, the baby will move his/her tongue to the nipple to suck and milk the breast.

    Premature babies may take weeks to properly suck and swallow which is why some doctors recommend a feeding tube inserted through the nose into the stomach to help them get the nutrients they need.

    When Does the Sucking Reflex Go Away?

    The sucking reflex usually lasts until the baby is four months old.

  4. Tonic Neck Reflex

    Also known as a fencing reflex, the tonic neck reflex happens when the baby's head turns to one side. This is triggered when you stroke or tap the side of the baby’s spine while the baby lies on his/her stomach. For instance, if the baby’s head turns to the right, the right arm will stretch out and then the left arm will bend at the elbow, forming a so-called "fencing" position.

    When Does the Tonic Neck Reflex Go Away?

    Tonic neck reflex may last until the baby is around five to six months old.

  5. Grasp Reflex

    Stroking or touching the palm of a baby may cause the baby to automatically close his/her hands. For example, when you place your finger on the baby’s palm, he/she will grasp it and hold onto your hand because of the grasp reflex.

    When Does the Grasp Reflex Go Away?

    The grasp reflex may last until the baby is about five to six months old.

  6. Babinski Reflex

    The Babinski reflex happens when you firmly stoke the sole of the baby’s foot. The baby’s big toe moves upward or toward the top of the foot and the other toe fans out.

    When Does the Babinski Reflex Go Away?

    The Babinski reflex usually lasts until the child is about two years old, but for some, it goes away after a year.

  7. Stepping Reflex

    This cute reflex is also called the walking or dancing reflex. Stepping reflex happens when you hold the baby upright with his/her feet touching a flat surface. You will notice that the baby will move his/her legs as if he/she is walking or trying to take steps although the baby is still too young to actually walk.

    When Does the Stepping Reflex Go Away?

    The stepping reflex often lasts for about two months.

What Types of Reflexes May Last Into Adulthood?

Both babies and adults may experience the following types of reflexes:

  1. Blinking Reflex

    This type of reflex happens when the eyes blink due to sudden intense light or when they are touched.
  2. Cough Reflex

    Coughing happens as a defensive reflex to heat, acid and other foreign bodies in the airways.
  3. Gag Reflex

    Gagging, or the gag reflex, happens when the back of the mouth or the throat is stimulated whether through choking, when it is touched, etc.
  4. Sneeze Reflex

    A person sneezes when the nasal passages get irritated.
  5. Yawn Reflex

    When the body requires more oxygen, yawn reflex occurs.

When to See a Pediatrician in Detroit?

Please see a pediatrician in Detroit if you have worries about your baby’s development or if he/she continues to experience newborn reflexes beyond the normal period as this may be a sign of a nervous system dysfunction.

One of our pediatricians in Detroit may perform exams that can help determine if your baby experiences abnormal infant reflexes as well. If your baby was born prematurely, don’t compare his or her development to that of full-term newborns. Premature babies are usually behind full-term babies in terms of development.

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