- Know Your Baby’s Newborn Reflexes
- Newborn Reflexes
- What reflexes should be present in a newborn?
- Neonatal reflexes
- Moro Reflex and Other Newborn Reflexes
- Moro reflex (startle reflex)
- More About Baby’s Motor Skills
- Rooting reflex
- Sucking reflex
- Plantar reflex
- Stepping reflex (walking reflex)
- Tonic neck reflex
- Grasp reflex (palmar grasp reflex)
- Types of Newborn’s Reflexes And When Do They Disappear?
- Types of newborn reflexes
- What are the reasons for these newborn reflexes?
- When do the newborn’s reflexes disappear?
Know Your Baby’s Newborn Reflexes
As newborns take in a whole new environment outside the womb, they are far too busy to worry about survival tactics. Luckily, there are innate reflexes in place to help protect newborns in the first few months of life.
“Newborn reflexes are automatic responses to stimuli,” explains pediatrician Edith J. Chernoff, MD, director of Premier Kids at La Rabida Children’s Hospital in Chicago and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago. “The nature of a newborn reflex is that the baby doesn’t have to think about what to do, but rather does things instinctively.”
Most newborn reflexes exist to help the baby survive in her first days, when she’s most helpless. “Although we know that they occur in babies, we’re unable to explain exactly why some of these reflexes exist,” Dr. Chernoff adds.
Newborn Reflexes: A Look at the Developing Nervous System
The benefit of newborn reflexes to parents and healthcare providers is that the reflexes give information as to whether a baby’s central nervous system is developing normally.
“Most newborn reflexes begin to fade by the second month, and most should be gone by around the fourth month,” says Kenneth Wible, MD, medical director of the Pediatric Care Center at Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Mo.
Parents who notice persistent newborn reflexes should discuss this baby behavior with their baby’s healthcare provider. “In most cases things are fine, but baby reflexes that continue after the fourth to sixth month may indicate a neurologic concern,” Dr. Wible says.
To help you recognize newborn reflexes as part of normal baby behavior, here’s an overview of the most common reflexes, when they occur, and what they entail:
Rooting reflex. “The rooting reflex prompts an infant to turn her head toward the nipple when her cheek or mouth is stroked,” Chernoff says. “The purpose of this reflex is to help the baby find the nipple at feeding time.” Initially an infant will root from side to side, turning her head toward the nipple and then away in decreasing arcs. “By about 3 weeks, a baby will simply turn her head and move her mouth into position to suck,” she says. The rooting newborn reflex disappears by 4 months.
Sucking reflex. “Sucking is a reflex that’s present even before birth,” Chernoff says. “An infant can sometimes be seen on a prenatal ultrasound sucking her thumb.” After birth, when something touches the roof of a baby’s mouth, he will automatically begin to suck. “Over time, sucking becomes coordinated with swallowing and breathing, and these synched baby behaviors improve with time,” Chernoff adds. The sucking reflex is important to survival because an infant who can’t suck and coordinate sucking with swallowing and breathing will have difficulty with feeding and gaining weight. Sucking doesn’t disappear, but by 4 months it becomes a voluntary activity rather than a newborn reflex.
Stepping reflex. “If you hold a newborn upright and place the soles of his feet on a table, he will begin to take steps,” Wible says. Although newborns can’t support their own weight, they’ll place one foot in front of the other and appear to walk. “The stepping reflex is ingrained in our primitive instincts to move,” Wible says. The purpose of this baby reflex is to prepare a child to walk, and it recurs around 12 months. As a newborn reflex, however, it usually disappears by the second month.
Palmer and plantar grasps. If you stroke the palm of a baby’s hand, she will grip your finger tightly. This newborn reflex is called the palmer grasp. Similarly, if you stroke the bottom of a newborn’s foot, her toes will curl. This is called the plantar grasp. “When a baby is first born, the palmer grasp can be so strong that it may seem like you could lift the baby this way, and she would hold her own weight,” Chernoff says. “But this is only a reflex, and the baby has no real control and could let go suddenly.” Chernoff says the palmer grasp usually disappears at five to six months, and the plantar grasp by 9 to 12 months.
Startle reflex. The startle or “moro” reflex is a newborn reflex that doesn’t have a clear explanation as a survival tactic. “The startle reflex occurs when a baby’s head shifts position suddenly or falls backward, or if a baby is startled by something loud or abrupt,” Chernoff says. “He will react by throwing out his arms and legs, extending his neck, and bringing his arms together as he cries out.” The startle reflex is an odd-looking baby behavior that can be frightening if it’s mistaken for a seizure. “But the startle reflex can be distinguished from a seizure because it only lasts a few seconds,” she says. This reflex disappears at around 6 months.
Other Baby Reflexes
There are other defensive baby reflexes that newborns exhibit for the purpose of survival as well. “For example, if a pillow or blanket falls over a newborn’s eyes, nose, or mouth, the baby will shake her head from side to side and flail her arms to push the object away so she can breathe,” Chernoff says. Also, if an object comes straight toward a newborn baby, she will turn her head and try to squirm out of the way. But if the object is on a course that would result in a near miss instead of a collision, the baby will watch calmly instead of flinching, Chernoff adds.
Newborns are amazing creatures with one main goal as they transition from the womb to the world: survival. Your newborn’s reflexes are in place during those first crucial weeks to help do just that.
The Moro reflex causes the baby to cry, throw back his or her head, and then pull his or her limbs into the body.
The tonic reflex is often called the “fencing” reflex because of the position of the hands.
What reflexes should be present in a newborn?
Reflexes are involuntary movements or actions. Some movements are spontaneous and occur as part of the baby’s normal activity. Others are responses to certain actions. Healthcare providers check reflexes to determine if the brain and nervous system are working well. Some reflexes occur only in specific periods of development. The following are some of the normal reflexes seen in newborn babies:
This reflex starts when the corner of the baby’s mouth is stroked or touched. The baby will turn his or her head and open his or her mouth to follow and root in the direction of the stroking. This helps the baby find the breast or bottle to start feeding. This reflex lasts about 4 months.
Rooting helps the baby get ready to suck. When the roof of the baby’s mouth is touched, the baby will start to suck. This reflex doesn’t start 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. Because babies also have a hand-to-mouth reflex that goes with rooting and sucking, they may suck on their fingers or hands.
The Moro reflex is often called a startle reflex. That’s 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 or her head, extends out his or her arms and legs, cries, then pulls the arms and legs back in. A baby’s own cry can startle him or her and trigger this reflex. This reflex lasts until the baby is about 2 months old.
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. This reflex lasts until the baby is about 5 to 7 months old.
Stroking the palm of a baby’s hand causes the baby to close his or her fingers in a grasp. The grasp reflex lasts until the baby is about 5 to 6 months old. A similar reflex in the toes lasts until 9 to 12 months.
This reflex is also called the walking or dance reflex because a baby appears to take steps or dance when held upright with his or her feet touching a solid surface. This reflex lasts about 2 months.
A normal birth is considered full term if the delivery occurs during the thirty-seventh to fortieth week after conception. Developmentally, the baby is considered a neonate for the first 28 days of life. At birth, the neonate must immediately make five major adjustments:
- Transition from an aquatic environment to a world of air. The first breath begins even before the umbilical cord is cut.
- Eat and digest his or her own food since the circulatory relationship between mother and baby stops with the severance of the umbilical cord.
- Excrete his or her own wastes.
- Maintain his or her own body temperature.
- Adjust to intermittent feeding since food is now only available at certain intervals.
Under normal developmental conditions, these neonatal reflexes represent important reactions of the nervous system and are only observable within a specific period of time over the first few months of life. The following reflexes are normally present from birth and are part of a normal newborn evaluation:
- The Moro reflex (or startle reflex) occurs when an infant is lying in a supine position and is stimulated by a sudden loud noise that causes rapid or sudden movement of the infant’s head. This stimulus results in a symmetrical extension of the infant’s extremities while forming a C shape with the thumb and forefinger. This is followed by a return to a flexed position with extremities against the body. Inhibition of this reflex occurs from the third to the sixth month. An asymmetrical response with this reflex may indicate a fractured clavicle or a birth injury to the nerves of the arm. Absence of this reflex in the neonate is an ominous implication of underlying neurological damage.
- Asymmetrical tonic neck reflex (sometimes called the tonic labyrinthine reflex) is activated as a result of turning the head to one side. As the head is turned, the arm and leg on the same side will extend while the opposite limbs bend, in a pose that mimics a fencer. The reflex should be inhibited by six months of age in the waking state. If this reflex is still present at eight to nine months of age, the baby will not be able to support its weight by straightening its arms and bringing its knees beneath its body.
- Symmetrical tonic neck reflex occurs with either the extension or flexion of the infant’s head. Extension of the head results in extension of the arms and flexion of the legs, and a flexion of the head causes flexion of the arms and an extension of the legs. This reflex becomes inhibited by the sixth month to enable crawling.
- Grasping reflex occurs as the palmar reflex when a finger is placed in the neonate’s palm and the neonate grasps the finger. The palmar reflex disappears around the sixth month. Similarly, the plantar reflex occurs by placing a finger against the base of the neonate’s toes and the toes curl downward to grasp the finger. This reflex becomes inhibited around the ninth to tenth month.
- Rooting reflex is stimulated by touching a finger to the infant’s cheek or the corner of the mouth. The neonate responds by turning the head toward the stimulus, opening the mouth and searching for the stimulus. This is a necessary reflex triggered by the mother’s nipple during breastfeeding. It is usually inhibited by the third to fourth month.
- Sucking reflex is triggered by placing a finger or the mother’s nipple in the infant’s mouth. The neonate will suck on the finger or nipple forcefully and rhythmically and the sucking is coordinated with swallowing. Like the rooting reflex, it is inhibited by the third to fourth month.
- Babinski or plantar reflex is triggered by stroking one side of the infant’s foot upward from the heel and across the ball of the foot. The infant responds by hyperextending the toes; the great toe flexes toward the top of the foot and the other toes fan outward. It generally becomes inhibited from the sixth to ninth month of post natal life.
- Blink reflex is stimulated by momentarily shining a bright light directly into the neonate’s eyes causing him or her to blink. This reflex should not become inhibited.
- Pupillary reflex occurs with darkening the room and shining a penlight directly into the neonate’s eye for several seconds. The pupils should both constrict equally; this reflex should not disappear.
- Galant reflex is stimulated by placing the infant on the stomach or lightly supporting him or her under the abdomen with a hand and, using a fingernail, gently stroking one side of the neonate’s spinal column from the head to the buttocks. The response occurs with the neonate’s trunk curving toward the stimulated side. This reflex can become inhibited at any time between the first and third month.
- Stepping reflex is observed by holding the infant in an upright position and touching one foot lightly to a flat Neonatal reflexes (Table by GGS Information Services.)
Reflex Stimulation Response Duration SOURCE : Table after Child Development, 6th ed. Wm. C. Brown Communications, Inc., 1994. Babinski Sole of foot stroked Fans out toes and twists foot in Disappears at nine months to a year Blinking Flash of light or puff of air Closes eyes Permanent Grasping Palms touched Grasps tightly Weakens at three months; disappears at a year Moro Sudden move; loud noise Startles; throws out arms and legs and then pulls them toward body Disappears at three to four months Rooting Cheek stroked or side of mouth touched Turns toward source, opens mouth and sucks Disappears at three to four months Stepping Infant held upright with feet touching ground Moves feet as if to walk Disappears at three to four months Sucking Mouth touched by object Sucks on object Disappears at three to four months Swimming Placed face down in water Makes coordinated swimming movements Disappears at six to seven months Tonic neck Placed on back Makes fists and turns head to the right Disappears at two months
surface, such as the bed. The infant responds by making walking motions with both feet. This reflex will disappear at approximately two months of age.
- Prone crawl reflex can be stimulated by placing the neonate prone (face down) on a flat surface. The neonate will attempt to crawl forward using the arms and legs. This reflex will be inhibited by three to four months of age.
- Doll’s eye reflex can be noted with the infant supine (lying on the back) and slowly turning the head to either side. The infant’s eyes will remain stationary. This reflex should disappear between three to four months of age.
Moro Reflex and Other Newborn Reflexes
Babies are pretty darn smart right from the start. In fact, from day one they instinctively know how to grasp a finger and root for the breast, two of several newborn reflexes babies come equipped with.
These newborn reflexes, including the well-known moro reflex or startle reflex, are so important that pediatrician will check them at baby’s very first doctor’s visit on your little one’s first or second day of life.
The newborn reflexes your baby’s doctor will look for include:
Moro reflex (startle reflex)
- Trigger: While some babies sometimes startle for no apparent reason, usually it’s in response to a loud noise, a sudden movement or the sensation of falling (say, when you put your little one down in his bassinet without enough support).
- Response: He’ll tighten his body, fling his arms up and out and open up his usually tightly clenched fists, draw up his knees and then bring his arms and re-clenched fists close to his body — almost as if he’s giving himself a hug. Seconds later, as abruptly as the startle started, it’s over.
- Reason: Baby’s first attempt to protect himself from harm.
- When does the moro reflex start? It’s present from birth.
- When does the moro reflex go away? By the time your baby’s about 6 weeks old, he’ll acclimate to life on the outside and feel more secure in his surroundings (thanks to you). His startle reflex will decrease and ultimately disappear around the 4-month mark. In the meantime, don’t sweat the startles — but do try to offer your infant lots of extra support when you’re toting him from one place to another.
- If baby startles himself awake: Try swaddling him to make him feel more secure.
- What does there mean if there’s no moro reflex? Abnormalities in the moro reflex are usually discovered by your baby’s doctor. But if you notice a change between visits, you should contact your pediatrician right away. He or she will be able to perform a test to find out what’s going on.
More About Baby’s Motor Skills
Development & Milestones Building Baby’s Motor Skills Development & Milestones Fine Motor Skills Development & Milestones Baby’s First Steps Development & Milestones Building Baby’s Motor Skills Development & Milestones Fine Motor Skills Development & Milestones Baby’s First Steps Why Babies Startle So Easily
- Trigger: A gentle stroke on the newborn’s cheek
- Response: Baby turns toward the touch, with mouth open
- How long does the rooting reflex last? Appears at birth and lasts until baby is 3 to 4 months old (sometimes, babies continue doing this in their sleep past 4 months old)
- Reason: Helps baby find food
- Trigger: Something, such as a nipple (breast or bottle) or parent’s finger, touching the roof of baby’s mouth
- Response: Baby sucks on nipple
- How long does the sucking reflex last? Appears at birth and lasts until baby is 2 to 4 months old
- Reason: Helps baby eat
- Trigger: A gentle stroke on the sole of the foot (from heel to toe)
- Response: Foot turns in and toes flare up
- How long does the plantar reflex last? Appears at birth, and while it can disappear at 12 months, it can also last as long 24 months
- Reason: Perhaps an attempt to protect against falling
Stepping reflex (walking reflex)
- Trigger: Holding baby upright with his feet on a flat surface
- Response: Baby lifts one foot, then the other, as if talking steps or walking
- How long does the stepping reflex last? Appears at birth and lasts until baby is 2 months old
- Reason: May prepare baby developmentally for walking several months from now
Tonic neck reflex
- Trigger: Lying on his back with head turned to one side
- Response: The arm on that side extends, while the opposite arm bends at the elbow (a “fencing” position)
- How long does the tonic neck reflex last? Appears some time between birth and when baby is 2 months old and lasts until baby is 4 to 6 months old (though this can vary a bit)
- Reason: May prepare baby developmentally for voluntary reaching later
Grasp reflex (palmar grasp reflex)
- Trigger: Pressing a finger or other object, such as a rattle, into baby’s palm
- Response: Baby makes a fist and tries to grab finger or object
- How long does the grasp reflex last? Appears at birth and can last up until baby is about 6 months old
- Reason: May prepare baby developmentally for voluntary grasping later
- Fun fact: Baby’s grip can be strong enough to support his entire body weight (but no need to test this out)
You can try to elicit these reflexes at home, but don’t be alarmed if your baby doesn’t cooperate — you might not be performing the stimulus perfectly, or your baby might be too tired or hungry to respond. If you try several times on different days without getting the expected result, check in with your child’s pediatrician.
- Age: two to four weeks
- Sucks poorly and feeds slowly
- Doesn’t blink when shown a bright light
- Doesn’t focus and follow a nearby object moving slowly from side to side
- Rarely moves arms and legs; seems stiff
- Seems excessively loose in the limbs, or floppy
- Lower jaw trembles constantly, even when not crying or excited
- Doesn’t respond to loud sounds
- Age: one to four months
- Doesn’t seem to respond to loud sounds
- Doesn’t notice his hands by two months
- Doesn’t smile at the sound of mother’s voice by two months
- Doesn’t follow moving objects with his eyes by two to three months
- Doesn’t grasp and hold objects by three months
- Doesn’t smile at people by three months
- Cannot support his head well at three months
- Doesn’t reach for and grasp toys by four months
- Doesn’t babble by four months
- Doesn’t bring objects to his mouth by four months
- Begins babbling, but doesn’t try to imitate any of your sounds by four months
- Doesn’t push down with his legs when his feet are placed on a firm surface by four months
- Has trouble moving one or both eyes in all directions
- Crosses his eyes most of the time (occasional crossing of the eyes is normal in these first months)
- Doesn’t pay attention to new faces, or seems very frightened by new faces or surroundings
- Is not alert to mother by three months
- Still has the tonic neck reflex at four months (also known as “fencing reflex” – link)
- Does not turn his head to locate sounds by four months
- Age: five to eight months
- Still has Moro reflex after six months
(e.g., “startle reflex” involving the spreading and unspreading of arms – link)
- Seems very stiff, with tight muscles
- Seems very floppy, like a rag doll
- Head still flops back when body is pulled up to a sitting position
- Reaches with one hand only
- Refuses to cuddle
- Shows no affection for the person who cares for him
- Doesn’t seem to enjoy being around people
- One or both eyes consistently turn in or out
- Persistent tearing, eye drainage, or sensitivity to light
- Does not respond to sounds around him
- Has difficulty getting objects to his mouth
- Seems inconsolable at night after five months
- Doesn’t smile spontaneously by five months
- Cannot sit with help by six months
- Does not laugh or make squealing sounds by six months
- Doesn’t roll over in either direction (front to back or back to front) by six months
- Does not actively reach for objects by seven months
- Doesn’t follow objects with both eyes in the near (25cm) and far (1.5m) ranges by seven months
- Does not bear some weight on legs by seven months
- Does not try to attract attention through actions by seven months
- Unable to hold rattle by seven months
- Not searching for dropped objects by seven months
- Unable to hold an object in each hand by seven months
- Does not babble by eight months
- Shows no interest in games of peek-a-boo by eight months
- Age: nine to 12 months
- Does not crawl
- Consistently drags one side of body while crawling
- Cannot stand when supported
- Does not search for objects that are hidden while he watches
- Says no single words (“mama” or “dada”)
- Does not use gestures, such as waving or shaking head
- Does not point to objects or pictures
- Does not use the pincer grasp by 12 months
- Is hard to console, stiffens when approached
If you are concerned about the development of a child, go to Local Information.
Types of Newborn’s Reflexes And When Do They Disappear?
The uncontrolled movements made by a newborn baby when a part of her body is stimulated are known as newborn reflexes. When a baby comes to this world, she becomes very busy to learn survival techniques. These newborn reflexes are automatic responses to the stimuli. The nature of such reflexes is that the baby does not have to think about what to do, she does it automatically.
The main importance of knowing newborn’s reflexes is that they tell the parents about the development of the central nervous system of the baby. Some of the newborn reflexes disappear by the 2nd month and some stay until the 4th month. When some of the newborn reflexes remain even after the 4th or 6th month, then a doctor should be concerned as it is a sign of a neurological problem.
Types of newborn reflexes
Some of the newborn reflexes are as follows:
It prompts a baby to automatically turn her head towards the nipple when her mouth or her cheek is stroked. The main utility of this reflex is for the baby is to find the nipple during feeding time. This disappears in about 4 months.
This is one type of reflex that is present in the newborn even before birth. On a prenatal ultrasound, it can be seen that the baby is sucking her thumb. With time, the sucking gets coordinated with swallowing and breathing. This type of reflex helps the newborn in coordinating with swallowing and breathing and in turn helps is feeding and gaining weight.
When you hold a newborn and then place her feet on the ground, she starts to take steps. Newborns cannot support their weight but they will put one foot before the other so as to show that they are walking. The utility of this reflex is to make the baby walk and it disappears in around 2 months as a newborn reflex.
This type of reflex occurs when the newborn baby’s head suddenly falls or shifts from one position to another. This might also occur due to some loud noise. The reaction the baby gives usually is throwing out her arms and legs, extending her neck and then bringing her arms together as she starts crying. This usually disappears within 6 months.
Palmer and plantar grasps
When you stroke the finger of your newborn baby, she grabs the finger quickly and tightly. This is called the palmer grasp. Similarly, when you stroke the foot of your newborn baby, her fingers curl. This is known as plantar grasp. For a newborn, it might look like when she is holding on to the finger tightly, it is easy to pick her up that way but it is only a reflex. She can let go at anytime. The palmer grasp disappears within 5 to 6 months and the plantar grasp disappears by 9 to 12 months.
This is the reflex when your newborn closes her eyes as soon as some object comes near her eyes. This is very important in assessing her visual attentiveness.
What are the reasons for these newborn reflexes?
Newborn babies are very smart from the day they are born. There are many reasons behind the involuntary response to the triggers caused to them. Some of them are as follows:
• Startle reflex is present to help the newborn baby protect herself from harm.
• Root reflex in the newborn baby helps her to find food.
• Sucking reflex helps your newborn baby to eat her food.
• Walking reflex helps the newborn to walk several months from then.
• Palmer grasp reflex occurs in newborn babies to prepare them mentally for voluntary grasping later.
• Blink reflex is very important in assessing the visual attentiveness in the newborn baby.
When do the newborn’s reflexes disappear?
The newborn reflexes of different types have different times when they do disappear. Some of them are as follows:
• Rooting reflex disappears in about 4 months of the newborn baby.
• Sucking reflex never disappears but it becomes more of a voluntary reflex that an involuntary one in the newborn baby.
• Stepping reflex disappears within 2 months of the newborn baby.
• Startle reflex disappears within 6 months of the newborn baby.
• Palmer grasp disappears within 5 or 6 months and the plantar grasp disappears by 9 to 12 months of the newborn baby.
As you play and interact with your baby during his first months of life, you may notice that he already has a wide range of movements from the first days. Things like sucking on a finger that touches his lips or turning his head toward the direction of a touch on the cheek. Those may seem like planned actions, but they are automatic responses called primitive reflexes. These reflexes are present in utero and at birth and they can be triggered by changes in the baby’s environment or body. Primitive reflexes exist to help a newborn move, develop, and survive, but they should integrate or disappear within the first year of life. In most cases this happens, but when they don’t, they may have negative implications in areas as broad as physical coordination, bedwetting, muscle tone and learning abilities.
The more that infants interact with their environment and participate in daily activities, the more likely that those reflexes will be incorporated or integrated into their basic repertoire of movements. The good news is that the vast majority of babies will have no issues incorporating these movements – and parents can help them by engaging in focused play.
Babies have 70 known primitive reflexes present in utero and at birth, but we are going to concentrate on five that are among the ones with the biggest impact on early development: The Moro Reflex, Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex, Galant Spinal Reflex, Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex, and Symmetric Tonic Neck Reflex.
The Moro Reflex
What is it? The Moro Reflex is also known as the startle response because it is triggered by a sudden noise, bright light, or an unexpected change in body position. You have probably seen your baby startle and spread their arms and open their hands, suggesting that they feel that they are falling. They will then bring their arms back to their body with the elbows bent. This is the Moro Reflex. It is the primitive form of an adult’s Fight or Flight response and is your baby’s innate attempt at self-protection.
Why do I care? Integration of the Moro reflex is essential to develop balance, coordination, and impulse control. A retained Moro reflex could result in over sensitivity to noises and lights, anxiety, and social immaturity.
When should it disappear? 4-6 months of age.
Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR)
What is it? TLR is triggered by your infant’s head movements and can be seen when your little one is on his belly or his back. When your baby lifts his head, his arms and legs will straighten and his toes will point. When he looks down his arms and legs will bend.
Why do I care? This reflex is crucial to help babies strengthen their necks and core muscles. It helps prepare them for key milestones like rolling over, crawling, standing and walking. Retaining this reflex often results in children with issues in posture, muscle tone, balance and spatial awareness.
When should it disappear? Around 6 months of age.
Spinal Galant Reflex
What is it? The Spinal Galant Reflex can be elicited by running a finger down your baby’s back, parallel to the spine from the neck to the base of the back. Your baby will automatically move their hips toward the direction of the stimulus, in this case, toward your finger.
Why do I care? This automatic movement assists to develop a range of motion in the hips of the baby that will help them with crawling and walking. Retaining it may result in issues like fidgeting and inability to sit still. Some studies also show links to bedwetting and attention problems.
When should it disappear? 3-9 months of age.
Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR)
What is it? When your baby turns their head to the side, their arm and leg of the same side extend, creating a “fencing” position. The arm and leg on the other side flex or bend.
Why do I care? ATNR is an important reflex for the development of hand-eye coordination. If retained, it may also create problems in the learning process of the child, specifically in areas like handwriting and reading.
When Should it disappear? Around 3-6 months of age.
Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR)
What is it? When your baby looks up his arms straighten while his rear moves down and his legs bend. When your baby looks down, the opposite happens, his arms bend while his rear goes up and his legs extend. It’s easiest to see this reflex if your baby is on all fours.
Why do I care? Retaining STNR may lead to issues with posture, left to right visual tracking and hand-eye coordination among others.
When should it disappear? STNR is not present at birth. It appears when your baby is 4-6 months old and disappears by 12 months old.
It is important that reflexes disappear or integrate within the first year of life so that more controlled and refined movements can develop. Tummy time (while your baby is awake) and frequent interaction in a multitude of positions are essential in promoting development, strengthening muscles, increasing coordination and integrating reflexes. Babies learn through play and experiencing the world around them, so time spent in a supported seat, car seat, or bouncer should be limited.
A reflex is a muscle reaction that happens automatically in response to a certain type of stimulation. Certain sensations or movements produce specific muscle responses.
Primitive reflexes; Reflexes in infants; Tonic neck reflex; Galant reflex; Truncal incurvation; Rooting reflex; Parachute reflex; Grasp reflex
The presence and strength of a reflex is an important sign of nervous system development and function.
Many infant reflexes disappear as the child grows older, although some remain throughout adulthood. The presence of an infant reflex after the age at which the reflex normally disappears can be a sign of brain damage or damage to the nervous system.
Infant reflexes are reflexes that are normal in infants, but abnormal in other age groups. Such reflexes include:
- Moro reflex
- Sucking reflex (sucks when area around mouth is touched)
- Startle reflex (pulling arms and legs in after hearing loud noise)
- Step reflex (stepping motions when sole of foot touches hard surface)
Other infant reflexes include:
The TONIC NECK REFLEX occurs when you move the head of a child who is relaxed and lying on his back to the side. The arm on the side where the head is facing reaches straight away from the body with the hand partly open. The arm on the side away from the face is flexed and the fist is clenched tightly. Turning the baby’s face in the other direction reverses the position. The tonic neck position is often described as the fencer’s position because it looks like a fencer’s stance.
The TRUNCAL INCURVATION or Galant reflex occurs when you stroke or tap along the side of the spine while the infant lays on the stomach. The infant will twitch his or her hips toward the touch in a “dancing’ movement.
The GRASP REFLEX occurs if you place a finger on the infant’s open palm. The hand will close around the finger. Trying to remove the finger causes the grip to tighten. Newborn infants have strong grasps and can almost be lifted up if both hands are grasping your fingers.
The ROOTING REFLEX occurs when you stroke the baby’s cheek. The infant will turn toward the side that was stroked and begin to make sucking motions with the mouth.
The PARACHUTE REFLEX occurs in slightly older infants, when you hold the child upright and then rotate his body quickly face forward (as if falling). The baby will extend his arms forward as if to break a fall, even though this reflex appears long before the baby walks.
Examples of reflexes that last into adulthood are:
- Blinking reflex — blinking the eyes when they are touched or when a sudden bright light appears
- Cough reflex — coughing when the airway is stimulated
- Gag reflex — gagging when the throat or back of the mouth is stimulated
- Sneeze reflex — sneezing when the nasal passages are irritated
- Yawn reflex – yawning when the body needs more oxygen
Infant reflexes can occur in adults who have:
- Brain damage
The health care provider usually discovers abnormal infant reflexes during an exam that is done for another reason. Reflexes that last after they are supposed to have gone away may be a sign of a nervous system problem in the child.
Parents who are worried about their child’s development, or who notice that baby reflexes continue in their child after they should have stopped should tell their health care provider.
The health care provider will perform a physical examination and ask questions about the child’s medical history.
Questions may include:
- What reflexes did the baby have?
- At what age did each infant reflex disappear?
- What other symptoms are also present (for example, decreased alertness or seizures)?
Review Date: 12/1/2011
Reviewed By: John Goldenring, MD, MPH, JD, Pediatrician with the Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, San Diego, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc. The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997-2012 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.