Baby reflexes, or primitive reflexes, are involuntary movements or actions displayed by newborns in response to certain stimuli. You may have noticed or will notice, these spontaneous reactions in your little ones, whether it’s the tight grasp of your finger or a startle in response to a loud sound.
These reflexes are not just fascinating to observe, but they are crucial indicators of your baby’s development and are therefore meticulously checked by doctors and midwives. Many parents are unaware of the significance of these reflexes, and witnessing them can sometimes be worrying. My hope is that, by delving into the details and importance of these instinctive reactions in this blog, we can spread awareness, alleviate concerns, and celebrate the intricate wonders of early human development together! The marvels of these reflexes unfold beautiful stories of human evolution and adaptability, enriching our understanding and appreciation of the miraculous journey every child embarks upon from birth.
The Origins of Reflex Studies
The study of baby reflexes has its roots planted in the work of renowned neurologist and paediatrician Dr. Moro Ernst. In the early 20th century, he detailed the Moro reflex, illuminating the world of infant reflexes and inviting further exploration in this field. Since then, several other reflexes have been discovered and analyzed, enriching our understanding of infant development.
Types of Baby Reflexes and Their Assessment:
Description: This reflex occurs when a baby is startled by a loud sound or movement, causing them to throw back their head, extend their arms and legs, cry, then pull the arms and legs back in.
Assessment: Healthcare providers commonly assess this reflex by gently lifting the baby and allowing the head and trunk to fall back slightly, triggering the reflex.
Timeframe: The reflex is present in full-term infants and begins to disappear by 12 weeks with complete disappearance by six months. More information: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK542173/ What does it look like?
Description: When the corner of a baby's mouth touches something, they will turn their head in that direction, showing a natural instinct to root and subsequently suck, aiding in breastfeeding.
Assessment: This reflex is usually checked by stroking the baby's cheek and observing the direction they turn their head.
Timeframe: It generally disappears around 4 months of age. More information: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557636/ What does it look like?
Palmar Grasp Reflex:
Description: When something is placed in a baby’s hand and strokes their palm, the fingers will close and they will grasp it with surprising strength.
Assessment: Doctors or midwives assess this by placing a finger into the infant’s palm.
Timeframe: This reflex lasts about 5 to 6 months. More information:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553133/ What does it look like?
Plantar Reflex (Babinski Reflex)
Description: When the sole of a baby's foot is stroked, the toes fan out and curl, displaying a dance of flexion and extension.
Assessment: This reflex is usually assessed by stroking the lateral aspect of the sole, from heel to toe, and observing the baby’s toe movements.
Timeframe: It’s usually present from birth and starts to disappear around 6 to 12 months of age. In adults, this reflex is not normal and often indicates a problem with the brain or spinal cord. More information:https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003294.htm What does it look like?
Description: If you hold a baby upright under the arms allowing one foot to touch a flat surface, they will appear to take steps or dance.
Assessment: This reflex is assessed by observing the baby's leg movements when one foot is placed on a flat surface.
Timeframe: It is usually present from birth and fades around 2 months. More information: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2230816/ What does it look like?
Tonic Neck Reflex:
Description: When a baby’s head is turned to one side, the arm on that side stretches out while the opposite arm bends, resembling a fencer's stance.Assessment: This reflex is assessed by observing the baby’s postural change in response to the turning of their head.
Timeframe: Asymmetric tonic neck reflex appears 18 weeks in utero, most prominent between 1 and 4 months of age, and disappears by 3 to 9 months after birth. On the other hand, symmetrical tonic neck reflex (STNR) appears 6 to 9 months after birth until 9 to 11 months of age. More information:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK559210/ What does it look like?
Description: When a baby is held in a horizontal prone position, the head is lifted, and the back arches, with the legs raised slightly, resembling a miniature superman flying through the skies.
Assessment: This reflex is usually noted by observing the baby’s response to being held in a horizontal position.
Timeframe: It emerges around 3 months of age and typically fades around 24 months. More information: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3996774/ What does it look like?
Description: When a baby is held upright and the baby's body is rotated quickly to face forward (as if falling), the arms stretch out symmetrically to brace for a fall, resembling a parachute.
Assessment: This reflex can be seen by observing the baby’s automatic response to a sensation of sudden falling.
Timeframe: It usually appears around 6-9 months and persists as a protective reflex into adulthood. More information: https://www.pedneur.com/article/0887-8994(95)00250-2/pdf What does it look like?
Description: When the skin along one side of a baby's back is stroked, the baby will swing towards the side that was stroked. This reflex resembles a graceful dance move, uniting responsiveness and motion. Assessment: This reflex can be noted by gently stroking one side of the newborn’s spine while holding them in a forward-facing position and observing the lateral trunk flexion.
Timeframe: Developed in utero at approximately 20 weeks. It should be fully developed at birth and should integrate (go away) between 3-9 months of age
More information: https://harkla.co/blogs/special-needs/spinal-galant-reflex What does it look like?
How are Reflexes Checked?
During regular checkups, paediatricians, doctors, and midwives will observe and examine these reflexes to ensure the baby is developing normally. The absence, persistence, or abnormality of these reflexes beyond the typical age range may indicate neurological issues, warranting further evaluation.
Understanding and Responding to Reflexes:
Watching your baby exhibit these adorable reflexes is more than just a delight; it’s like having a front-row seat to the amazing world of infant development! But remember, we parents are the first line of defence when it comes to spotting any unusual patterns. So, if you ever notice that any of these reflexes are hanging around a bit too long, seem to be missing, or look a bit asymmetrical, don’t hesitate to chat with your pediatrician. Paediatricians are adept at conducting examinations to accurately assess any developmental nuances. Early and precise intervention can significantly influence the developmental trajectory, providing guidance, reassurance, and support in navigating the incredible journey of your child’s developmental milestones.
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