Have you ever heard about reflexes in babies? We humans are rational animals, but we have our instincts, too... And newborn reflexes are proof of that!
If you're expecting a baby and have done some reading, you may have read some things about baby reflexes, also called primitive reflexes. They are a sort of survival skills innate to the baby, a response to stimuli that helps them protect themselves. We all have reflexes: When you touch something that is burning, you automatically remove your hand. You do it without thinking about it first, without being aware of what you're doing and why you're doing it. That is your body protecting you from a potential harm in your environment. Well, reflexes in babies do that exact same thing, even though they make your baby appear nervous and even more fragile. But they're a good thing, and they will fade away little by little as your baby grows. Some others, he will keep. As you will see in the next few lines, some of your baby reflexes are still with you!
Reflexes in babies: The Moro reflex
Also known as the startle reflex, the Moro reflex is truly fascinating. Whenever the baby feels like he's going to fall, for instance, when you are putting him in his crib or you're shifting him in your arms, his arms jerk up with the palms up and he extends his legs and neck. As its name suggests, the startle reflex happens when the baby is startled, so he's very likely to start crying right after! The Moro reflex starts disappearing when the baby is two months old, but it can last up to the sixth month of life.
Reflexes in babies: The sucking reflex
The sucking reflex is of vital importance, since it is essential for breastfeeding. Not all baby reflexes are common in all mammals, but the sucking reflex is. Thanks to this reflex, the baby will instinctively suck anything that arrives to his little mouth, either the nipple, the teat, the dummy or his thumb! Thanks to this reflex, the baby can latch on and suck the milk, and thus eat and survive. See how important these reflexes are?
The sucking reflex has two steps, first the pressure: the baby will squeeze the object that is put in his mouth between the tongue and the palate, and second the milking, when the baby moves the tongue to extract the milk. If there is milk, that is: the baby will do the same movement with the dummy, but of course nothing will come out of it!
Reflexes in babies: The rooting reflex
The rooting reflex is another one of the newborn reflexes that helps breastfeeding. This reflex makes the baby turn his head towards whatever touched his cheek or mouth. Do you know that technique to stimulate the baby to suck by gently touching his cheek? That is directly related to the rooting reflex!
Reflexes in babies: The palmar grasp reflex
We all love this one - how not to? Whenever something touches your baby's palm, he will instinctively grab it really, really tight. Isn't it cute? The baby does this in order to get as much contact as he can. It starts disappearing at three months of age. The same happens with the feet, in what is called the plantar reflex.
Reflexes in babies: The step reflex
Grab your baby by the armpits and put him in a vertical position, with his little feet on a soft surface. You'll see how he tries to walk! It's not that he's ready to make his first steps yet, but the step reflex or walking reflex! This reflex disappears pretty early, and it resurfaces later on as a voluntary behaviour. When it does, it means that your baby will be walking soon!
Reflexes in babies: The tonic neck reflex
Also called the fencing reflex, it is considered to be a precursor of the baby's hand-eye coordination, although experts don't know its purpose for sure. Put your baby on his back and gently turn his neck towards the right side. You will see that he'll extend the right hand and raise the other arm. If you turn his head towards the left, the left arm will extend. It starts fading between four and five months old.
Reflexes in babies: The swimming reflex
Another of the newborn reflexes directly related to survival instinct. If you put a baby face down in a pool, he will start kicking and paddling. You don't need to try it, though! In fact, babies tend to swallow a lot of water while doing this, which can be dangerous and it is why swimming lessons are better postponed until the baby is at least three months old.
Reflexes in babies: The parachute reflex
It sounds like the opposite of the Moro reflex, and it is also a clear sing on how babies instinctively try to protect themselves, even if they are so fragile that they absolutely need us. If you lean your baby towards the front, you will see how he extends his little arms upfront, as if to protect himself from a possible fall.
These are some of the most interesting and relevant reflexes, but there are more, such as the Babinski reflex or the Galant reflex. Doctors don't know the use of all of them, but they sure are interesting to see.
As you can see, reflexes in babies are not only a sign that everything is fine, but also a very interesting thing to observe. Knowing and seeing how we're born with these automatic responses makes us learn lots about our less rational part, the one that we think about the least.