What are Newborn Reflexes?

What are Newborn Reflexes?

Feb 2, 2018

What can your newborn do, so soon after making an entrance in the world? A lot of amazing things, it turns out. Besides eat, poop, and sleep, new babies are equipped with a set of built-in reflexes that you'll be entranced by, once you know what to watch for. These reflexes are natural instincts that ensure a baby's safety and survival, and can be observed in any healthy newborn. Here is some information about the natural reflexes of a newborn.

The Rooting Reflex

Babies are equipped with a rooting reflex, which can communicate their natural desire to suck, as well as hunger when the reflex is more pronounced. This is what's happening when you cradle your baby to your chest, and they immediately start turning their head toward your breast and open their mouth, wiggling their face around to find something to suck on. You will also see the rooting reflex at work when you stroke their cheek or chin with your finger, and they turn toward you open-mouthed. The rooting reflex tends to disappear around four months of age.

The Moro Reflex

The Moro reflex, also called the “startle” reflex, is characterized by a flailing-like motion when your baby is startled by a quick touch, or an obtrusive light or sound. They will straighten out and kick out their arms and legs. This reflex is most often observed when the baby is lying on their back. When your doctor or midwife performs the newborn exam, they will check for this reflex on purpose as an indicator of good neurological health. The Moro reflex usually goes away after two months.

The Stepping Reflex

This is a fun one to see your baby do. Hold your baby upright with their feet on the floor or your lap, enough to bear just a little bit of weight, and watch how they automatically put one foot down in front of the other, as if they are “walking”. The stepping reflex disappears around two months of age.

The Grasp Reflex

Almost everyone knows this one—hold your finger out to your baby, and they will instinctively curl their little hand around and firmly grasp your finger. It's sweet, it's precious, and it usually lasts about five to six months.

Other Protective Reflexes

Despite your baby's tiny size, they have several reflexes that help them preserve and protect themselves. They can instinctively cough to clear their airways, sneeze when their noses are irritated, and pull away from something disturbing or painful. They can even turn their heads or wiggle around if there is something obstructing their view or breathing.

If you get the chance, watch as your health care provider performs the newborn's physical exam. You'll be able to see them check out all of these reflexes, and knowing to watch for them will help you communicate with your baby for an even stronger bond!

We encourage you to learn more about our "What in the World" series. Please see our A to Z index for a whole host of pregnancy, postpartum, and parenting information and terminology.

Loree Siermachesky works as a multi-certified labour and postpartum doula, certified Lamaze childbirth educator, certified breastfeeding counselor, certified placenta encapsulation specialist and a certified car seat technician in Medicine Hat and Lethbridge. She has had the honour of attending over 1400 births in the last 20 years. She is well-known and greatly respected by the medical providers in Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Brooks, Taber, and Calgary. She cares deeply for this profession and even more for her clientele, honoring them in whatever method of birth they choose, or helping them transition to new parenthood as they wish.