May 14, 2024
Developmental milestones
May 14, 2024
Developmental milestones

Your newborn’s reflexes

As you snuggle up with your sweet newborn, you’ll probably notice all sorts of funny movements and quirks. You might see them twitching, flailing their arms and legs, or grasping onto your finger with their tiny hand. These are their natural newborn reflexes kicking in, as they start to explore and react to the world around them. Let’s take a closer look at these cute reflexes that your newborn is showing off.
Dahlia Rimmon, RDN
Written by
Dahlia Rimmon, RDN
Content Writer
Dr. Marcy Borieux
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Marcy Borieux

Why are newborn reflexes important?

Newborn reflexes are little involuntary reactions your baby has to their environment. You may notice your baby making sudden movements or twitching motions in response to sounds, touch, or light. These reflexes are totally normal and show that your baby's nervous system is working as it should. Some of these reflexes fade away after a few weeks, while others stick around for a few months.

What are different types of newborn reflexes?

Here are some common newborn reflexes.

Rooting reflex

Have you ever noticed that your baby will turn their head towards your kiss or touch? That’s the rooting reflex in action, which causes babies to turn their head when they’re touched near their mouth. The rooting reflex is nature’s way of helping babies find the breast or nipple during feeding.

Sucking reflex

When you think about the sucking reflex, it's often tied to images of babies breastfeeding or happily gulping down a bottle. The sucking reflex is what helps your baby drink milk or soothe themselves by sucking on their thumb or pacifier.

Even though babies have the sucking reflex in utero, some may need a bit of practice to become efficient eaters. Babies have to learn the tricky skill of sucking milk and breathing at the same time. If you're planning to breastfeed, lactation consultants can be a huge help in getting the right latch to trigger the sucking reflex. And if you're using a bottle, make sure to choose a nipple that's just right for your baby's age (like newborn, preemie, or stage 0-1). The lactation consultants at Summer Health are here to help every step of the way!

Moro reflex

Ever seen your baby suddenly flail their arms in response to being startled, like when you're going down the stairs or walking a bit too quickly? That's the Moro reflex, also known as the startle reflex. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), some babies have stronger startle responses than others, so you might notice varying degrees of the Moro reflex between newborns.

Grasping reflex

Okay, in my humble opinion, this is the cutest newborn reflex! The grasping reflex occurs when you gently touch your baby’s palm, and their tiny fingers close around yours. Aw! You’ll also see the grasping reflex when you stroke the sole of their foot, and their toes instinctively curl in.

Fencing reflex or tonic neck reflex

The fencing reflex, also called the tonic neck reflex, looks like your baby is striking a fencing pose (which is pretty adorable!). You’ll see your baby turn their head on one side, while the corresponding arm straightens out and the opposite arm bends, just like they're gearing up for a fencing match.

Stepping reflex

Even though your newborn isn't ready to take real steps yet, the stepping reflex occurs when you hold them down on a flat surface, they'll instinctively move one foot in front of the other, as if they're practicing their first steps of walking.

FAQs: More about newborn reflexes

What's the Babinski reflex?

The Babinski reflex is similar to the grasp reflex. When you touch the bottom of your baby's foot, their toes will automatically curl in.

What's the palmar grasp reflex?

The palmar grasp reflex is just another name for the grasping reflex. This reflex helps your baby grab onto things like toys or pacifiers, and bring them straight to their mouth for exploration.

Are there any other newborn reflexes?

Early on, babies also have a swimming reflex and diving reflex (though it doesn’t mean they’re actually able to swim on their own yet).

Don’t forget, if you have any questions or concerns about your baby’s reflexes, Summer Health’s team of pediatricians are only a text away.


American Academy of Pediatrics: Newborn Reflexes

Dahlia Rimmon, RDN
Content Writer
Explore Summer Health
Ask about 
developmental milestones
Our team of pediatricians are ready to answer the everyday questions you have about your child’s health.
Get started
*Requires account with Summer Health at $45/month