Imagine trying to teach your baby how to suck or poop. Thankfully, you don’t have to because babies are born with about 70 newborn reflexes tucked away in their jam-packed brains. Like blinking or coughing, reflexes are automatic behaviors that don’t have to be learned or practiced. Many are so important that they’re present from day one of life…and before!
You’ll have fun catching your baby showing off some of these amazing tricks. Here are several different infant reflexes to watch for:
1. Crying Reflex
Crying is the “mother” of all baby safety reflexes! Triggered by any sudden distress, it’s perfectly tuned to launch your nervous system and get your heart—and feet—racing to help.
We often think of sneezes as a sign of a cold, but with babies they are usually just little noses trying to eject bits of dust and mucous.
3. Rooting Reflex
Touch your baby’s cheek near the lips (or right on the lips) and his mouth will turn toward the touch, open and then shut. Rooting helps your baby locate, receive and grasp your nipple…even in the dark. Don’t worry if you stroke the cheek and your baby doesn’t respond. Rooting is a smart reflex: it’s only there when an infant is hungry. If you touch his cheek and nothing happens, he’s probably not needing a meal yet.
4. Sucking and Swallowing
Do you have ultrasound photos of your little cutie sucking his thumb before birth? After your baby roots and latches onto the nipple, sucking and swallowing get flipped on to send milk down the stomach.
Hold your baby under the armpits (slightly leaning forward) and let the soles of his feet touch the floor. A few times out of ten, you’ll see one leg straighten and the other bend. (Try leaning your baby a little to one side, so one foot has more pressure under it than the other.) During the last months of pregnancy, it may have allowed him to move around and prevent pressure sores.
6. Calming Reflex
While the calming reflex soothes upset infants, it probably evolved to calm fussy fetuses! (If fetuses wiggle around too much they can move into breech position and get stuck as they start coming down the birth canal) How brilliant of Mother Nature to make the natural sensations of the womb put babies into a mini-trance for the last 2 months of pregnancy to keep them from moving into risky positions. The 5 S’s (swaddling, side/stomach position, shushing, swinging and sucking) and SNOO (a bed that uses the S's to boost sleep) both turn on the calming reflex.
Press your finger into your baby’s palm or sole of his foot, and he’ll usually grab on with his fingers or, toes. This may seem like a trivial little parlor trick, but it’s actually critically important…for baby apes. Newborn chimps have been able to cling to their mom’s fur while she’s scurrying through the jungle. (Be careful. Your baby’s iron grip can yank off your glasses or a handful of “fur” off Daddy’s chest!)
8. Moro Reflex
This is the famous “I’m falling” reflex. It flips on when a baby gets startled (by a jolt, loud noise or her head suddenly falling back). The Moro causes your baby’s arms to shoot open, then come together in a big hug, as if he’s trying to grab hold of you. It has probably saved countless baby monkeys whose moms were able to catch their out-stretched arms as they started to fall.
As your baby matures, his clunky old reflexes will be retired and forgotten, like a toddler’s tattered old blankie. But, early in life, many of these well-designed responses are literally life-saving.