Your baby is a “strange” and ever changing little being. The jerky movements you are seeing are part of early infant reflexes and are absolutely normal.

A reflex is an involuntary movement or action their little bodies take in response to their own movement or something in the environment. Reflexes control all of those things that our body needs regulated so that we don’t even realise we are receiving information, such as heart rate and breathing. Some reflexes occur only in specific periods of development and then are integrated naturally. The following are some of the normal reflexes seen in new-born babies:

  • Rooting reflex. This reflex begins when the corner of the baby’s mouth is stroked or touched. The baby will turn his or her head and open his or her mouth to follow and “root” in the direction of the stroking. This helps the baby find the breast or bottle to begin feeding.

  • Suck reflex. Rooting helps the baby become ready to suck. When the roof of the baby’s mouth is touched, the baby will begin to suck. This reflex does not begin until about the 32nd week of pregnancy and is not fully developed until about 36 weeks. Babies also have a hand-to-mouth reflex that goes with rooting and sucking and may suck on fingers or hands.

  • Moro reflex. The Moro reflex is often called a startle reflex because it usually occurs when a baby is startled by a loud sound or movement. In response to the sound, the baby throws back his or her head, extends out the arms and legs, cries, then pulls the arms and legs back in. A baby’s own cry can startle him or her and trigger this reflex. This reflex lasts about 5 to 6 months. This is why we often recommend swaddling as it prevents baby’s jerky movements waking them up in an otherwise peaceful sleep.

  • Grasp reflex. Stroking the palm of a baby’s hand causes the baby to close his or her fingers in a grasp. The grasp reflex lasts until about 5 to 6 months of age and is important for later skills.

  • Babinski reflex. When the sole of the foot is firmly stroked, the big toe bends back toward the top of the foot and the other toes fan out. This is a normal reflex up to about 2 years of age.

  • Step reflex. This reflex is also called the walking or dance reflex because a baby appears to take steps or dance when held upright with his or her feet touching a solid surface.

Most of the time these reflexes integrate naturally however we encourage tummy time and crawling to assist with integration of the primitive reflexes.

By Physiotherapist Nicole Hilburn
Tel: 082 771 8443