Newborn - Reflexes

What reflexes should be present in a newborn?

Reflexes are involuntary movements or actions. Some movements are spontaneous, occurring as part of the baby's usual activity. Others are responses to certain actions. Reflexes help identify normal brain and nerve activity. Some reflexes occur only in specific periods of development. The following are some of the normal reflexes seen in newborn babies:

  • root reflex

    This reflex begins when the corner of the baby's mouth is stroked or touched. The baby will turn his/her head and open his/her mouth to follow and "root" in the direction of the stroking. This helps the baby find the breast or bottle to begin feeding.

  • suck reflex

    Rooting helps the baby become ready to suck. When the roof of the baby's mouth is touched, the baby will begin to suck. This reflex does not begin until about the 32nd week of pregnancy and is not fully developed until about 36 weeks. Premature babies may have a weak or immature sucking ability because of this. Babies also have a hand-to-mouth reflex that goes with rooting and sucking and may suck on fingers or hands.

  • Moro reflex

    The Moro reflex is often called a startle reflex because it usually occurs when a baby is startled by a loud sound or movement. In response to the sound, the baby throws back his/her head, extends out the arms and legs, cries, then pulls the arms and legs back in. A baby's own cry can startle him/her and begin this reflex. This reflex lasts about five to six months.

  • tonic neck reflex

    When a baby's head is turned to one side, the arm on that side stretches out and the opposite arm bends up at the elbow. This is often called the "fencing" position. The tonic neck reflex lasts about six to seven months.

  • grasp reflex

    Stroking the palm of a baby's hand causes the baby to close his/her fingers in a grasp. The grasp reflex lasts only a couple of months and is stronger in premature babies.

  • Babinski reflex

    When the sole of the foot is firmly stroked, the big toe bends back toward the top of the foot and the other toes fan out. This is a normal reflex up to about 2 years of age.

  • step reflex

    This reflex is also called the walking or dance reflex because a baby appears to take steps or dance when held upright with his/her feet touching a solid surface.


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