Newborn Reflexes Parents Can Check at Home

    Newborn Reflexes Parents Can Check at Home

    Newborn reflexes, like the plantar grasp reflex, are movements your baby does involuntarily or without trying. Experts say the majority of a newborn’s movements in the first few weeks are done by reflex.

    For many parents, checking for newborn reflexes is a fascinating experience. But please remember that the presence and strength of a reflex have a significant clinical meaning: it tells you something about the child’s nervous system development.

    Case in point: The absence of the plantar grasp reflex may indicate spasticity or muscle tightness due to prolonged muscle contraction1. Likewise, the retention of rooting reflex beyond the time it’s supposed to disappear might point to a congenital cerebral injury2.

    What Your Baby’s Bumbunan Says About Their Health

    Below are some of the newborn reflexes you can check at home:

    1. Moro Reflex

    When a newborn’s head shifts position abruptly, or when something like a loud sound startles them, they will extend their neck, arms, and legs outward and then rapidly bring their arms together.

    The Moro or startle reflex is present at birth, peaks at 2 months, and diminishes by 4 months. A persistent Moro is associated with intellectual disability and cerebral palsy3.

    How to Test:

    Hold your baby while making sure their head, torso, and legs are well supported. Afterward, swiftly lower their head and body in a dropping motion. You will notice them abruptly extending their arms and legs, and then quickly pull them close again.

    Note that the Moro should manifest in both sides of the body. If it’s only visible on one side, bring your baby to the pediatrician.

    2. Palmar Grasp Reflex

    Not to be confused with plantar grasp reflex, the palmar grasp reflex involves the baby’s hands (palms). You’ll notice that when you place a slim object in their hand, they will grasp it tightly.

    This reflex is present from birth and disappears by their 5th or 6th month.

    How to Test:

    Place a finger in your baby’s open palm; wait for them to automatically grasp it.

    Note that a newborn’s grasp can be so strong you might be able to lift them off the bed. But please don’t try it because babies don’t have control over this grasp and they might let go suddenly.

    3. Rooting Reflex

    Another reflex you can check at home is the rooting reflex. This reflex helps them find the nipple or milk bottle for feeding.

    The rooting reflex is present at birth but only lasts for 4 to 6 months. If it’s still present beyond that time, the infant may have drooling and a tongue that’s positioned too forward in the mouth. A persistent rooting reflex is also associated with cerebral palsy2.

    How to Test:

    Gently stroke your baby’s cheek or the corner of their mouth. Watch them turn their head in the direction of the stroking.

    4. Sucking Reflex

    If rooting helps babies find the source of food (nipple, bottle), the sucking reflex helps them feed until they develop it into a skill.

    Interestingly, the sucking reflex is present even before birth; you might even see them do sucking motion during an ultrasound. After 2 to 3 months, your baby’s sucking is no longer a reflex; it’s already a conscious effort.

    How to Test:

    Place a nipple (bottle or breast), pacifier, or clean finger inside your baby’s mouth. They will automatically squeeze it rhythmically between their tongue and palate.

    5. Plantar Grasp Reflex

    The plantar grasp reflex is when the newborn’s big toe bends backward and the other toes spread out as you touch their feet.

    This reflex is present at birth but should disappear in 9 to 12 months. An extremely strong plantar grasp reflex is associated with a certain type of cerebral palsy. Meanwhile, prolonged retention of plantar grasp reflex might be associated with mental retardation1.

    How to Test:

    Gently stroke your baby’s foot from the heel up to the pad below their toes. Watch as their toes curl.

    6. Tonic Neck (Fencing) Reflex

    Tonic neck reflex occurs when the newborn extends the arm and leg where their head is turned into.

    This reflex is present at birth and disappears when they are 5 to 7 months old.

    How to Test:

    While your baby is lying on his back, gently turn his head to the right. Notice how they will extend their right arm and leg, and then flex their left limbs (as if they’re fencing). When you turn their head to the left, the opposite will happen.

    This reflex is subtle, so you might not notice it. Additionally, babies won’t exhibit this reflex when they are disturbed or crying.

    However, you should notice the fencing reflex equally on both sides. If you only observe it on one side, consult their doctor.

    Key Takeaways

    Newborn reflexes, such as the plantar grasp reflex, are important indicators of nervous system development and function. If you notice something amiss with their reflexes, don’t hesitate to consult the pediatrician about your observation.

    Learn more about Baby Care here.

    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Sources

    1 Neural Mechanism and Clinical Significance of the Plantar Grasp Reflex in Infants, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0887899410001773, Accessed October 7, 2021

    2 Rooting Reflex, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557636/, Accessed October 7, 2021

    3 Moro Reflex, https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/moro-reflex, Accessed October 7, 2021

    4 Newborn Reflexes, https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/Pages/Newborn-Reflexes.aspx, Accessed October 7, 2021

    5 Infant reflexes, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003292.htm, Accessed October 7, 2021

    6 Newborn Reflexes, https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=90&ContentID=P02630, Accessed October 7, 2021

    Picture of the Authorbadge
    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated Jul 27
    Medically reviewed by Rubilyn Saldana-Santiago, MD