A newborn has partial control over its body, the baby reflexes, while necessary, can make it seem like a bundle of nerves— kicking, twitching and jerking at odd times—but they are actually signs that everything is fine with your baby. Many of these embryonic responses will disappear in a few months as your baby’s body becomes more organized and it no longer needs them. Meanwhile, you can keep a check on its development by performing these fun and fascinating little check-ups.
No. 1: Walking (or stepping) reflex
How to check?: Hold your baby under its armpits with its legs dangling, then lower the baby so that its toes touch the floor. The baby should immediately place one foot in front of the other and start to “walk” in place.
How long will this stay?: Around two months, perhaps it’s nature’s way of telling it, “You are still not ready for it”?
No. 2: Rooting reflex
How to check?: Stroke the side of your baby’s cheek with your fingers or breast and it will turn its head toward it, begin to make sucking movements with its mouth. This most fundamental of survival instincts can be a big help to nursing moms trying to teach their babies to latch on.
How long will this stay?: About four months.
No. 3: Startle reflex
How to check?: Make your baby sit upright for a few seconds with your hands lightly gripping its underarms, and your fingers supporting its neck then suddenly but gently lower its back a bit. Your baby will throw out its arms and legs and extend its neck, as if asking you to pick it up! Loud, unexpected noises may provoke this reflex, and it may even cry especially when the baby is startled.
How long will this stay?: Around two months.
No. 4: Grasp reflex
How to check?: Stroke your baby’s palm with your finger. It will immediately grab your finger and hold on so tight you might have to pry its little fingers off. It is the baby’s way of holding you and trying to get as much skin-to-skin contact as it can. If you rub the sole of its foot, your baby will curl up its toes in the same way, too.
How long will this stay?: Gradually, beginning in about the third month.
No. 5: Tonic neck reflex
How to check?: When your baby is lying on its back, gently turn your baby’s head to the right. Its right arm will shoot out in front it and will raise the other arm above its head. Baby will do the same thing on the opposite side if you turn its head to the left. Even doctors are not sure what this reflex is for, but it does help your baby focus on the hand that is out in front of it.
How long will this stay?: Between four and five months
No. 6: Righting reflex
How to check?: Gently drop a blanket over your baby’s face. Baby will automatically shake its head from side to side and wave its arms until it falls off—it is your baby’s way of protecting itself. As the baby gets bigger, this reflex will evolve as necessary. For instance, when your baby is learning to sit up, it will automatically stick its hand out to catch itself if it begins to tumble over.
When It Disappears: Toward the end of the first year, as muscle tone and control improve.
No. 7: Tongue-thrust reflex
How to check?: Touch your baby’s spoon to the tip of its tongue and watch it push it back out. This reflex prevents the baby from choking on foreign objects.
How long this stays?: Between four and six months. This is the reason why it doesn’t usually make sense to feed your baby with solid food early (except in the rare case of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), when doctors may recommend you to feed your baby with slightly thick infant formula with rice cereal in a bottle).
No. 8: Withdrawal reflex
How to check?: When your baby is happily sitting in its bouncy seat, suddenly bring your face close to it. It will quickly turn its head away, again an attempt at self-protection. It will do the same if there is an object headed its way (you may have observed it in the blanket test just above), to avoid an impact.
How long this stays?: Fortunately, it lasts a lifetime! Or at least until that cute girl from Mathematics class zooms in for a kiss J.