Newborn Reflexes

From birth, all normal, healthy newborns exhibit reflexes. A reflex is defined as an automatic response to an outside stimulus. A yawn, grasp, suck, etc. are all examples of the many reflexes with which your baby is born.

What many parents fail to realize is that reflexes are needed for survival. They offer a protection, if you will. There are seven in all and each one ensures a different need for survival. Most reflexes generally disappear before the 3rd and 4th months, but can last as long as a year.[1]

Reflexes which should be present in a newborn

Root reflex

This reflex begins when the corner of the baby's mouth is stroked or touched. The baby will turn his/her head and open his/her mouth to follow and "root" in the direction of the stroking. This helps the baby find the breast or bottle to begin feeding.

Suck reflex

Rooting helps the baby become ready to suck. When the roof of the baby's mouth is touched, the baby will begin to suck. This reflex does not begin 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. Babies also have a hand-to-mouth reflex that goes with rooting and sucking and may suck on fingers or hands.

Moro reflex

The Moro reflex is often called a startle reflex 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/her head, extends out the arms and legs, cries, then pulls the arms and legs back in. A baby's own cry can startle him/her and begin this reflex. This reflex lasts about five to six months.

Tonic neck reflex

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. The tonic neck reflex lasts about six to seven months.

Grasp reflex

Stroking the palm of a baby's hand causes the baby to close his/her fingers in a grasp. The grasp reflex lasts only a couple of months and is stronger in premature babies.

Babinski reflex

When the sole of the foot is firmly stroked, the big toe bends back toward the top of the foot and the other toes fan out. This is a normal reflex up to about 2 years of age.

Step reflex

This reflex is also called the walking or dance reflex because a baby appears to take steps or dance when held upright with his/her feet touching a solid surface.[2]


If you were to put a baby under six months of age in water, they would move their arms and legs while holding their breath. This is why some families believe in swim training for very little babies. It is not recommended for you to test this reflex at home for obvious safety reasons.[3]

It is not always easy to demonstrate these reflexes and not all babies do them all of the time, so don't be surprised if you or your Pediatrician can't trigger all of the reflexes. More important, is your baby's overall growth and development. Absent, asymmetric or persistent reflexes might be a sign of a neurological problem, though, and need further evaluation.[4]

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