What are newborn baby reflexes?
A reflex is defined as an automatic response to a stimulus that occurs without the active participation of the subject. Consider your natural reaction when you accidentally put your hand into scalding water — you reflexively withdraw your hand to protect yourself from harm without conscious thought. This is an example of a reflex.
The benefit of these reflexes is that they allow an automatic and swift response to a stimulus, protecting us from many different types of harm. And they aren’t only active in adults — even newborn babies have a range of reflexes that protect them from potential harm in their immediate environment.
So what reflexes are observed in newborns, and how do they protect babies from potential harm? Let’s read on.
Types of common newborn reflexes
The rooting reflex is a straightforward one. In response to having their cheek stroked or touched, a newborn baby will turn toward the stimulus and open their mouth toward the stroking.
As you can probably guess, this reflex allows a newborn to successfully latch on to their mom’s breast for feeding.
This reflex is present from birth and becomes less prominent when the baby is three to four months old.
Like the rooting reflex, the sucking reflex helps a baby to seek food. It prompts automatic sucking when the nipple of a breast or bottle, or even a finger, stimulates their lips. This reflex appears before birth. In fact, if you had an ultrasound test done during pregnancy, you may have seen your baby sucking their thumb. It becomes voluntary at three months.
The Moro reflex is present from birth and provides the newborn with protection from harm in the outside environment. It usually occurs when a baby is startled by a loud sound or movement. If a baby in a supine position is rapidly lowered by about four to eight inches, they will tense their body, open their arms wide, and unclench their fists. Then, they’ll draw their knees into their chest and bring their arms back toward their body with their fists clenched again. The process may conclude with the baby crying loudly.
If you’re watching all of this from the sidelines, it will almost look like your baby is giving themself a hug! But this reflex is short-lived and will pass within a few seconds. Although it’s present from birth, this reflex will happen less often as your baby settles into their new environment outside the womb. By five to six months, it should have disappeared entirely.