'Because newborn babies have limited control over their bodies, they are equipped with temporary survival skills in the form of primitive reflexes.' Picture: Supplied

Welcoming a newborn baby into the world is often described as one of life’s greatest blessings. But with this bundle of joy, comes new parent jitters especially when dealing with newborn reflexes.


Life Fourways Hospital paediatrician, Dr Buitendag, recommends a few tips for parents to put their minds at ease during the early days of parenthood.


“Because newborn babies have limited control over their bodies, they are equipped with temporary survival skills in the form of primitive reflexes. If your newborn baby exhibits these reflexes it’s actually an indication that they are doing just fine,” says Dr Buitendag. “These primitive reflexes will disappear in a few months’ time as their bodies develop and adjust.”


Below is a list of a few common newborn reflexes:


Startle Reflex:

The startle or Moro reflex is a commonly seen primitive reflex in newborn babies. Paediatricians often test this reflex during their examination of newborn babies.


This reflex usually occurs in response to a loud noise, a sudden movement or the sensation of falling when you put your baby down in their bassinette without enough support. The reflex consists of their body tightening, flinging their arms up and out, opening up their usually clenched fists, drawing up their knees and then bringing his/her arms and re-clenched fists close to their body as if giving themselves a hug. Babies may also cry a little.


It is a normal newborn baby reflex and parents don’t have to be concerned about it. It is a remnant of human evolution where it assisted a baby clinging to their mother while being carried around all day. If they lost balance, the reflex caused him/her to embrace their mother and to regain the hold on their mother’s body.


This reflex disappears by about two to three months of age.

Rooting Reflex:


When you stroke the side of your baby’s cheek with your finger or breast, he/she will turn their head to that side, open their mouth and begin to make sucking movements. This is the rooting reflex.

This reflex disappears at about four months.

Grasp Reflex:


When you stroke the palm of your baby’s hand he/she will immediately grab your finger and hold on tight.

This reflex is a remainder of evolution when we had to hang on tight to our mother’s backs. These days the grasp reflex teaches us as infants how to use our hands and hold things, which is a precursor to feeding ourselves.

This reflex disappears gradually, beginning in about the third month.

Tongue Trust Reflex:


This reflex is a life saver, really. It’s the reflex that allows your baby to stop from chocking when they first start eating solid food. It’s demonstrated when you touch the tip of your baby’s tongue with a baby spoon and they push it back out.

It disappears between four and six months of age. This is one of the reasons why we don’t usually start solids before four months of age.

Withdrawal Reflex:


This reflex has developed to protect your baby. If an object is coming towards your baby, they will turn their heads and try to get away.

Tonic Neck or Fencing Reflex:


When your baby is lying on his/her back and you turn their head to the right, they will extend their arm and leg on the right side while flexing their arm and leg on the opposite side, assuming a fencing position. Your baby will do the same if you turn their head the opposite side.

This reflex usually disappears at about six months of age.

Walking Reflex:


If you’re holding your baby under their armpits, with their feet touching the floor, it may appear as though they want to walk. This is due to the walking reflex. Your baby will place one foot in front of the other and start to ‘walk’ in place.

This reflex disappears at about two months of age.