• Baby Whisperers

Newborn Reflexes

Updated: Jan 19


Have you ever made a loud noise and noticed that your baby throws his hands up? Did you wonder if your baby was scared, or assumed he didn’t like that noise?

While some newborn reflexes are widely known, many are not known by new parents. For example, this “startle” reflex is very normal in babies! It does not necessarily mean your baby fears whatever noise was made; it just means their reflexes are perfectly intact.

Below is an excerpt from one of our favorite pediatricians on Facebook, Dr. Liz Donner from the page My Friend the Pediatrician.


The Moro reflex, often called the startle reflex, happens in response to a loud sound or movement. A baby will throw back his or her head while flailing out the arms and legs, then cry, then pull the arms and legs back in toward the body. This normal reflex is present until about 2-4 months of age. Babies with a very sensitive startle reflex may prefer to be swaddled with their arms snug against the body.

Due to their immature nervous systems, newborn babies often have trembling of the chin or quivering of the lower lip. This doesn't necessarily mean that they are cold, so don't be tempted to over-bundle them! Jitters of the arms and legs during crying is also normal. Giving a pacifier or bottle to suck on should relieve the jittering. While sleeping, you may notice sudden jerks or body twitches. If they only occur during sleep, they are likely NORMAL.

Seizures, on the other hand, typically consist of repetitive muscle jerking and abnormal movements of the eyes. They will look like more than just a quick jerk or twitch. They do NOT typically occur while a baby is crying. True seizures in a baby are worrisome and warrant immediate medical attention.

Babies are noisy breathers. They make gurgling noises when air passes through saliva or refluxed milk. They making "wheezing" or "snoring" sounds from their nose when they are congested. This is normal. Use nasal saline drops or spray (purchased OTC at your local drugstore) to loosen up dried mucus so that it can be sneezed out, swallowed, or suctioned out with a bulb syringe. Avoid using Q-tips in the nose.

Frequent yawning or deep sighs are both normal ways of opening up the airways.

Pauses in breathing that last roughly 10 seconds, followed by rapid "catch up" breathing, is normal. Taking rapid, progressively deeper breaths for less than a minute or so (called transient rapid breathing) is also normal.

Babies frequently sneeze to clear their airways.

They grunt when they're trying to poop.

They also blink their eyes a lot to bright light exposure. All of this is normal.

Rooting reflex: A baby will turn their head and open their mouth when the corner of the mouth is touched. (this is present until ~6 months old)

Suck reflex: A baby will start to suck whenever the roof of their mouth is touched. They will often suck on their fingers or hands. (fades between 6-12 months of age)

Tonic neck reflex: When a baby's head is turned to one side, the arm on the same side will stretch out while the opposite arm bends at the elbow -- aka the "fencing position". (present from about 1-7 months of age)

Grasp reflex: This one is my favorite. Stroking the palm of a baby's hand should cause them to involuntarily close their hand and grasp whatever object is present (lasts until 4-6 months of age). Similarly, if you press your thumb against the sole of the foot right by the toes, you should see the toes curl in tightly (lasts 9-12 months).

Step reflex: When your baby's feet touch a hard surface while held in an upright position, they should move their legs in a stepping motion, as if they are practicing to walk. (lasts until ~2 months)

Tongue-thrust reflex: Babies will push food out of their mouth for the first 4-6 months of life. This is just one reason why I recommend waiting until 6 months to start solid foods!

Babies don't all gain and lose their reflexes at exactly the same time. If you can't elicit a reflex on your own, please don't panic! Just mention it to your provider at your next routine visit. I hope this info helps some of you sleep better at night.


As always- like, comment, and share!

Jeri Ford, RN, BSN, CPN

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