Infant Reflexes: What to Look For

Until your newborn can think for himself, most of his movements, from kicking to sucking, are purely reflexive. But by three months, you'll notice that he's able to control many of the actions that are now random.

The presence of some basic instincts tell pediatricians that a baby's central nervous system is functioning properly. And even though newborns are wired with more than 70 reflexes, pediatricians typically check for just a few. If you don't see evidence of the following common reflexes, or if they're noticeably slower than they should be, let your child's doctor know.

    Rooting is a reflex that prompts a newborn to look for food. When he feels you stroke his cheek, or feels your nipple against his cheek, he automatically turns toward the sensation and moves his head from side to side, searching until he connects with the breast or bottle. Within about three weeks, he'll be able to voluntarily turn his head and move his mouth into position without first doing the search.

    When a baby throws his arms and legs out to his sides and then pulls his arms in close to his chest he's demonstrating the startle, or Moro, reflex. Move your baby suddenly, and he'll demonstrate this reflex. He'll also startle in response to changes in temperature -- such as when you undress him -- and to loud noises. The startle reflex generally disappears by two months.

    At his most recent check-up, you probably noticed the pediatrician hold your baby upright, with her hands tucked under baby's armpits and her thumbs supporting his head. She was actually testing your baby's stepping reflex -- checking to see if he responded to being held in this position by lifting his feet up and down, almost as if he were trying to walk. This reflex tells the pediatrician that a baby's spinal cord and brain stem are functioning normally. Babies usually stop stepping by about six to eight weeks.

Dana Sullivan is a frequent contributor to Your Baby Today and also writes for Fit Pregnancy, Parenting, and Self.

The content on these pages is provided as general information only and should not be substituted for the advice of your physician.

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