Your baby’s unintentional twitches, jerks, and sudden movements, usually provoked by something in the environment, are actually helping them figure out the world. Your baby has a whole collection of these reflexes, which are subconscious reactions to something happening to or around them.
The Moro—or “startle”—reflex, is self-protective; it kicks in when your baby hears a loud noise or senses that they’re falling. Their eyes open wide, they quickly extend their arms as if they’re falling, then bring them back in. This reflex is present at birth and goes away between 3 and 6 months.
You’ve probably also noticed the suck reflex, too: your baby sucks on anything that goes into their mouth. This one is present at birth, generally disappears by 4 months or so, and is there to help your baby learn how to eat.
Note: these reflexes are not all automatic—it’s perfectly normal for a baby not to react to a stroke of the foot or a finger in their palm. If reflexes seem to be absent for long periods of time within their developmental windows, you may want to check with your pediatrician.
Here are some other baby reflexes:
Tonic neck reflex
When your baby is on their back with their head turned to one side, their arm on that same side will extend out, and the other arm bends at the elbow. Experts believe this helps with reaching; it comes in by 2 months and leaves around 6. This one is also known as the “fencing reflex” because of the way your baby looks when it happens.
If you hold a baby straight up and down with their feet on a surface, they will push and lift. If it looks like they’re walking, that’s because this reflex is likely a way for their body to practice the skills they’ll later need to walk upright. This one disappears by around 2 months.
When you stroke your baby’s cheek, they will likely turn their head in that direction and start to suck. This helps them find food and has the same time frame as the suck reflex (0-4 months)
Palmar grasp reflex (aka “grasp reflex”)
This is another commonly known baby reflex and refers to the way your baby grasps anything in their palm. You also may have noticed how strong this grip is—sometimes they don’t want to let you go 🙃 This reflex allows your baby to practice gripping objects later on, and goes away by 6 months.
Babinski’s reflex (aka “plantar reflex”)
A soft stroke of the bottom of your baby’s foot provokes an inward turn of the foot and the spread of little toes. This one lasts longer—it can take up to two years to disappear—and may be self-protective like the Moro reflex.
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