Newborn Baby Reflexes and Senses

The movements of a newborn baby are largely reflex in nature. Some of these automatic reactions have obvious survival value, such as turning the head to one side when it is placed in a prone position, crying when it is hungry or ‘rooting’ for the breast.

Because the neurological development reflects the overall development of the baby, checking his or her reflexes is very important. Not only is it necessary to determine whether a reflex is present, but also when it disappears. The Moro reflex, for example, normally cannot be evoked anymore once the baby is three months old.

Persistance of this reflex may even be indicative of a brain disorder. At birth, apart from feeding reflexes, other reflexes are present. Two reflexes that are very easy to check are whether a newborn will blink at light and whether its pupils react to light by constricting.

A strong grasping reflex is present during the first months. If you stroke a baby’s palm it will grasp your finger. This grip is so strong that the baby can be suspended momentarily from the finger. A newborn baby also has stepping and placing reflexes. If you hold him or her upright on a table, leaning slightly forwards, with the feet flat on the top, he or she will take alternate steps; if the top of the foot is touched against the underside of the table-top, he or she will lift the foot and place it on the table.

A reflex which is commonly measured in newborn babies, and, as stated above, normally disappears during the first months of life, is the Moro reflex. If you hold the baby lying on its back, and then either slap the bed by his or her head or let the head drop sharply backwards, the baby will suddenly extend body, arms and legs and then flex them again.

Senses

A newborn baby can see and hear, and respond to loud sounds by staring or blinking, although it will not be able to identify the direction of the sound.

There is some speculation as to what a newborn baby can see. He or she can certainly recognize light and large objects, and most mothers will agree that their new babies look around them a great deal during their first days, and appear to gaze intently at the mother while feeding.

The newborn baby’s eyes are generally dark blue and it is several weeks before they take on their permanent colour.