Babies are born with primitive reflexes which are important for survival. It is important for caregivers to be aware of these reflexes because they help us observe a baby's development.
Pediatricians assess reflexes because reflexes tell them about the integrity of the baby's brainstem.
Newborn reflexes are all present at birth and should be symmetrical on both sides of the body.
Most newborn reflexes should diminish or go away completely by six months.
Most of the movements babies make during the first two months are reflexive until purposeful movement takes over.
Trigger: Gently stroke your baby’s cheek
Response: Baby turns head toward the touch, with mouth open (great for feeding time)
How long should it last?: Until baby is three to four months old (sometimes, babies continue doing this in their sleep past four months old)
Why does baby do it?: Helps baby find food
Trigger: Gentle pressure is applied to baby's tongue or the roof of baby’s mouth
Response: Baby closes lips around finger or nipple and begins to suck
How long should it last?: Three to four months
Why does baby do it?: Helps baby eat, and helps to calm baby. Sucking is very relaxing for babies.
Moro reflex (also called startle reflex)
Trigger: Loud noise, sudden movement, or sensation of falling, dropping baby suddenly through space or allowing baby's head to drop back. This can be elicited by the baby in the form of a stomach gurgle or even baby's cry.
Response: Baby quickly extends legs, arms, and fingers, arches back, curls fingers, then pulls arms and legs back toward body.
How long should it last?: Until baby is four to six months old
Why does baby do it?: this is an innate response to protect himself from harm.
Trigger: gently stroke your baby's foot on the sole from heel to toe
Response: Foot turns in and toes flare out, then curl
How long should it last?: Six to 24 months
Why does baby do it?: It is not known for sure, but it is believed it might be an attempt to protect from falling
Trigger: Hold your baby upright with his feet on a flat surface, so he feels pressure though the soles of his feet.
Response: Baby lifts one foot, then the other, as if walking or marching. Don't be fooled. your baby is not ready to walk, this is just a reflex.
How long should it last?: About two months
Why does baby do it?: This reflex may prepare baby's legs developmentally for walking several months from now
Asymmetrical Tonic neck reflex
Trigger: Lie your baby on his back with head turned to one side, then gently turn his head to the other side.
Response: The arm on the side that the head turns to extends, while the opposite arm bends at the elbow (a “fencing” position)
How long should it last?: About six months (sometimes not present until two months of age)
Why does baby do it?: This reflex protects baby's head and face by blocking anything that might hit them as they turn their head. It may also prepare baby developmentally for voluntary reaching thing within their line of vision later.
Grasp (or palmar grasp) reflex
Trigger: Press your finger or other object, such as a rattle, into baby’s palm. Great for siblings and other children to do with babies.
Response: Baby closes fingers around object and grasps it tightly.
Duration: Three to four months
Why does baby do it?: This reflex may prepare baby developmentally for voluntary grasping later, it also strengthens fine motor muscles.
You can try to elicit these reflexes with your baby from the time they are born.
Responses may vary depending on baby's mood and situation, but your should see these newborn reflexes in your baby for the first few months when they are elicited correctly. If you try several times on different days to elicit reflexes in your baby without getting the expected result, check in with your pediatrician. It any of these reflexes continue to be elicited in your baby after they should integrate (or go away), that is also a time to check with your pediatrician because they could get int he way of purposeful movement.
These reflexes can be disturbing to your baby, especially if they interfere with sleep. You can help calm your baby by swaddling him in a warm blanket.
Created and Produced by:
Aimee E. Ketchum, OTR/L CNMI
Pediatric Occupational Therapist
Certified Instructor of Baby’s First Massage
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances and as always, please consult your pediatrician before using any of the suggestions or baby exercises on this site.