From the moment of their birth, newborns possess the ability to communicate with their parents and caregivers. When a baby is born, they come equipped with various survival capabilities. Some of these are known as newborn reflexes, which are automatic responses to specific stimuli in their environment. These reflexes develop during the prenatal period, making them most commonly observed in healthy full-term newborns. While these automatic responses are prevalent during the initial weeks to the first year of life, they eventually transition into actions controlled consciously by the baby. In this video, we will explore the root, suck, tonic neck, grasp, and Moro reflexes, each of which plays a crucial role in a newborn's growth and development.
The root reflex becomes evident when a newborn's cheek or the corner of their mouth is gently touched or stroked. The baby instinctively turns their head toward the touch and opens their mouth, as if searching for something with their mouth or rooting. Given a newborn's limited vision at birth, this reflex helps them locate their source of nourishment, whether it's the mother's breast or a bottle nipple.
The suck reflex is triggered when the roof of the baby's mouth is touched, which can occur when breastfeeding, bottle-feeding, using a pacifier, or even when the baby's hand touches their own mouth. Sucking is an innate skill that allows the baby to feed themselves. It's worth noting that the suck reflex doesn't fully develop in the womb until around the 36th week of pregnancy. This is why preterm infants or preemies might have a weaker suck and encounter feeding difficulties. Various factors like tongue-tie, cleft lip, cleft palate, and infections can also affect a newborn's ability to suck.
The tonic neck reflex, sometimes called the fencing position, involves the baby's upper body adopting a pose resembling that of a fencer when the baby's head is turned to one side. The arm on the turned side stretches out, while the opposite arm forms an L shape. This reflex may seem dramatic, but it's often a subtle response and not always noticeable. It primarily serves as a protective mechanism for newborns, so there's no need to disturb them if you don't observe it, especially while they're resting.
The grasp reflex is more apparent when an object, such as a finger, rattle, or blanket, touches the palm of a newborn's hand. In response, the baby instinctively wraps their fingers tightly around the object. This gripping action can also be seen if you gently lay your fingers across the baby's foot, causing their toes to curl tightly (known as the plantar grasp).
The step or walking reflex is believed to help develop leg muscles for walking in the future. When you hold the baby upright under the arms while supporting their neck and bring their dangling feet to a flat surface, they naturally respond by alternately lifting each foot in a stepping motion, resembling walking or dancing.
The Moro reflex, also referred to as the startle reflex, is triggered by sudden loud sounds or movements. In response, the newborn abruptly extends their arms and legs outward before bringing them back toward the center of their body. Depending on their position, the baby's head can even arch backward during this reflex. Babies can activate this reflex when startled by their own cry. This reflex serves as a safety mechanism, helping the baby protect themselves from harm.
These reflexes not only contribute to growth and development but also play a crucial role in a newborn's safety. For instance, the Moro reflex enables babies to wake easily, ensuring they receive essential oxygen, care, and nourishment. The tonic neck reflex safeguards the fragile airways of newborns from being obstructed by external objects. Additionally, the root and suck reflexes assist babies in reaching the breast for bonding and feeding.
It's important to note that parents and caregivers are not expected to test these reflexes on their newborns. Instead, understanding these inherent reflexes and abilities equips them to care for their babies in the safest manner possible.