New fathers are often more familiar with their baby's reflexes than they think. Although you may not officially be aware of what they are, or know the names of them, these reflexes involve things you probably notice your baby doing every day. For example, you observe the rooting reflex when your baby looks for the breast or a bottle when he is ready to eat and his cheek is stroked.
Why does your baby tightly grab your finger when you put it into his hand? That's the palmar grasp reflex. The plantar grasp reflex causes the same thing to happen on his foot. In addition to being the easiest to recognize, these grasping reflexes also are often the last to disappear. The palmar grasp reflex doesn't usually go away until your baby is five to six months old. And the plantar grasp won't disappear until even later, when your baby is nine to twelve months old.
Infants are born with reflexes that help protect them in their environment. For example, the Moro or startle reflex might protect your baby if something covers her face all of a sudden. The parachute reflex, in which the arms extend if your baby falls forward, can protect her as she learns to walk. And the rooting and sucking reflex can help her to eat.
Observing these reflexes and the time at which they go away can help to make sure that your baby is growing and developing normally. The average dad doesn't need to be testing these reflexes on a regular basis, though. For most dads, it is just a fun thing to notice. Your pediatrician will be checking all of your baby's reflexes at his well-baby exams, and will pay special attention to them if you have any concerns about your baby's development. There are several other reflexes your pediatrician will check that you may also notice as you watch your baby.
Moro or Startle Reflex
This reflex is one of the easiest for parents to recognize. After your pediatrician stimulates this reflex, your baby should throw his arms and legs outward, cry, and then draw them back in. The Moro reflex also can occur if your baby is surprised or startled by a loud noise or if you quickly change his position.
If your baby doesn't have a Moro reflex or only responds with one side of his body or one arm, it can indicate a problem that your pediatrician will want to investigate. The Moro reflex is present at birth and usually goes away by two months.
Tonic Neck Reflex
This is an interesting reflex when you see it. In response to turning his head to one side, this reflex causes a relaxed baby to straighten his arm on that side and bend his other arm. If you then turn his head to the other side, he will reverse the positioning of his hands. The tonic neck reflex usually goes away by five to six months. This is one of the harder reflexes to see, so don't be surprised if you never see your baby getting into this "fencing position."