Babies never cease to fascinate me! From their tiny facial expressions, to the little (and sometimes big!) sounds they make, to the flailing of their arms and legs… ❤️
About the flailing – newborns don’t actually have a lot of intentional, voluntary movement. And they depend on us for everything. Fortunately however, babies do come equipped with some inbuilt survival skills = reflexes. There are some which stay around through adulthood, but many actually disappear during their first year.
See how many of these you’ve recognised through your own experience with babies – and how many you’ve never realised were baby reflexes!
One of the most basic baby survival instincts, to help them find their food source!
Trigger: When something strokes against baby’s cheek or near their mouth
Reaction: Baby turns toward where they were touched with their mouth open, starting to make sucking motions
When it’ll pass: ~3-4 months
Combined with the rooting reflex, this ensures baby gets the sustenance they need by helping them to feed.
Trigger: When something (e.g. breast, bottle, finger, dummy) touches the roof of baby’s mouth
Reaction: Lips close and the sucking begins!
When it’ll pass: After ~2-3 months, sucking becomes intentional rather than automatic/involuntary
Moro reflex / Startle reflex
An attempt at protecting themselves from harm – one theory is that the movements are to alert mum to quickly attend to them.
Trigger: A loud or unfamiliar noise, sudden movements or a falling sensation (e.g. sit baby upright while supporting them, then suddenly lower them backwards a little)
Reaction: Baby’s arms will fling outwards with open hands and their legs will extend, before bringing their legs and arms (with clenched fists) back close to their body. This is usually accompanied by a surprised facial expression, and possibly even followed by crying.
When it’ll pass: ~2-4 months
Prevents choking, and is also an indicator that baby isn’t ready for solids yet.
Trigger: Touch an object, a spoon or your finger to the tip of baby’s tongue
Reaction: Baby’s tongue pushes forward and out, blocking the object from entering their mouth
When it’ll pass: ~4-6 months
Early preparation for eventual walking – babies already have instinctive knowledge about this action.
Trigger: Hold your baby upright with their legs dangling and their feet resting on a flat surface
Reaction: Baby will lift one foot and put it in front of the other, before doing the same with their other foot, as if they’re “walking”
When it’ll pass: ~2-3 months
Palmar grasp reflex
This is definitely the cutest baby reflex! It helps foster interactions and to establish connections, particularly with their parents. It also prepares baby for voluntary grasping later on.
Trigger: Lightly press a small object (or your finger) into the open palm of baby’s hand
Reaction: Baby’s fingers will curl around to make a fist and hold on to the object
When it’ll pass: ~3-6 months
Plantar grasp reflex
Some theories say this reflex comes from primate ancestors, who would use their feet for holding onto tree branches – but there hasn’t been any scientific confirmation of this link.
Trigger: Gently stroke the sole of baby’s foot, from heel to toe
Reaction: Toes curl to wrap around the stimulus
When it’ll pass: ~9 months – 1 year
Tonic neck reflex / Fencing reflex
There are different theories about the purpose of this reflex – some say it has a protective role (guarding themselves), others speculate that it’s preparing baby for voluntary reaching and focusing on what’s in front of them.
Trigger: Lie baby on their back with their head turned to one side
Reaction: The arm on the side they’re facing straightens and extends away, while the other arm bends at the elbow. This tends to look like a “fencing” position.
When it’ll pass: Appears sometime during the first 2 months, then passes around ~4-6 months
Parachute reflex / Superman reflex
Another protective reflex – a safety response in an attempt to steady themselves and prevent themselves from falling onto their face.
Trigger: When baby is held suspended over the floor facing downwards, then suddenly “dives” towards the ground.
Reaction: Baby extends their arms and spreads their hands, looking like they’re falling from a parachute or diving like Superman! (Hence the colloquial references)
When it’ll pass: Appears around ~6-8 months, when babies have greater motor control, then stays for life!
Truncal incurvation reflex / Galant reflex
Not sure what this reflex is for…but it makes babies look like they’re dancing!
Trigger: When baby is on their tummy and either side of their lower spine/back is stroked or tapped
Reaction: Baby twists to swing their hips towards the side that was stroked, kinda like dancing
When it’ll pass: ~4-6 months
Other reflexes appearing from birth and lasting into adulthood…
- Blinking reflex: baby blinks their eyes when touched or when a bright light suddenly appears
- Coughing reflex: baby coughs when their airway is stimulated
- Gagging reflex: baby gags when the back of their mouth/throat is stimulated
- Sneezing reflex: baby sneezes when their nasal passages are irritated
- Withdrawal reflex: baby quickly turns their head away when an object is suddenly brought close to their face
- Yawning reflex: baby yawns when their body requires more oxygen
How many of these did you already know about? Have you see any of these baby reflexes in action before?