Newborn and Reflexes

The most magical part of your baby is watching them – watching them watching you! and responding to you, as you teach them about their new world!

This is so special … as you and your baby learn to communicate …. as you respond to you baby and re-enforce what they do … this is the basis of developing their self esteem.

You wonder about your newborn and reflexes … are they behaving as they “should” and there are so many variables!

Your newborn baby is born with a number of reflexes which may only be present for a few days: reflexes like a “stepping” reflex sometimes referred to as a ‘walking reflex”, where your newborn, when held upright with feet resting against a solid surface – the natural reflex will be to lift the leg as in a stepping motion.

The “clasp” reflex is another reflex that your newborn baby will use initially – the baby clings to an object, your finger etc and can hold on quite firmly.

A cuddle reflex – your baby will naturally be inclined to cuddle in towards you.

Your newborn and reflexes that will assist him/her with feeding – there are two – the “rooting” reflex and a “sucking” reflex – your newborn baby will instinctively try to find the breast – maybe bobbing their head up and down as they try to find it!   It is the Mom’s job to keep baby calm while baby naturally goes about finding the breast.
When the nipple presses into the baby’s cheek, the baby will automatically turn towards where the pressure is coming from, opening their mouth at the same time, assuming that it is the breast. If you try to use your hand/fingers to turn your baby’s head towards the nipple when feeding – your baby’s reflex is to turn to where the pressure is coming from, opening the mouth at the same time.
Used correctly, this reflex will help you attach your newborn baby correctly for breast-feeding. Do you see that if you use your finger to try to turn your baby’s head – you will confuse the baby, so it’s a good idea not to be touching the baby’s cheek or head during a feed. Don’t try tapping your baby on the cheek to wake the baby when feeding, – a little tug on the foot is a better idea.

The “sucking” reflex is obviously needed for your newborn baby to be able to feed. In preterm infants, this reflex is evident by 36 weeks of gestation. If your preterm infant has not yet developed this reflex, the hospital unit where your baby is being cared for, will assist your baby with feeding, either by feeding your baby directly into the bloodstream (intravenously) or by placing a tube into your baby’s stomach (intra-gastrically). In a full-term newborn infant the sucking reflex is present.

Your newborn and reflexes that you will find so amusing is that of mimicking. You will watch this develop as your baby grows day by day. As you hold your baby directly in front of you, try to engage your baby with eye contact, and mimic back to your baby expressions/ facial movements they may be making. E.g. if they are moving their tongue, or screwing up their eyes – mimic what they are doing, and add a little extra expression of your own. As you respond to them, and re-enforce their actions, this says to them … what I’m doing is OK, and they feel pleased with themselves, and they may then try to copy your action. A brand new baby is often too occupied with sleeping to be interested in this, but as they become more wakeful, you will be able to start communicating with your baby this way.

The ‘startle” or Moro reflex is another reflex your newborn baby is born with. If the baby gets a fright, or does not feel supported, when you’re handling your baby, the baby initially will jerk the arms and legs outwards, throw their head back, and then bring them back over their body. If your baby often exhibits this reflex, just slow down your handling of your baby, and work more at their pace.

The “babinski” reflex is a reflex that a newborn baby will exhibit when the sole of the foot is firmly stroked – the big toe flexes and the other toes fan out.

Newborn babies will blink as a reflex, if something comes too close to their eyes.

So when it comes to your newborn and reflexes – just remember that your baby is unique and that your baby will learn at its own pace – no matter whether they are a slow learner or fast learner – the one thing that will help them reach their potential is to have a Dad and Mom who love them – who value them enough to spend their precious time with them – a loving family is worth more than a quick family – any day!