When my first son was born, I thought one of the cutest things he did was throw his arm back with his hand wide open, like he was grabbing for me.
Then, some nurse spoiled all my enjoyment and said ALL babies did that. She called it the “startle reflex.” Then, my mom, who has a medical background, told me it was called the tonic neck reflex. Infants are born with different reflexes, and even though they might look awkward, they are perfectly normal.
The tonic neck reflex occurs when baby’s head, when he is relaxed and lying face up, is moved to the side. The arm on the side where the head is facing reaches away from the body with the hand partly open. The arm on the side away from the face is flexed, and the fist is clenched tightly. Turning the baby’s face in the other direction reverses the position. This is sometimes called the “startle” reflex, and you’ll see it from birth through the early weeks.
The truncal incurvation or galant reflex occurs when the side of the infant’s spine is stroked or tapped while baby lies on the stomach. The infant will twitch his or her hips toward the touch in a dancing movement. (Remember Dancing Baby of the viral Internet video?)
The grasp reflex is when you place your finger or another object in the baby’s palm. Their hand will close around the finger. Trying to remove the finger causes the grip to tighten. Newborns have strong grasps and can almost be lifted up if both hands are grasping your fingers. How many times have you seen proud papas post about how strong their offspring is at birth?
The rooting reflex helps baby feed. This reflex happens when you stroke baby’s cheek. The infant will turn toward the side that was stroked and begin to make sucking motions.
Finally, the parachute reflex occurs in slightly older infants when the child is held upright and the baby’s body is rotated quickly to face forward (like he’s falling). The baby will extend his arms forward as if to break a fall, even though this reflex appears long before the baby walks. If you try this at home, please don’t drop baby.