Testing Your Newborn's Reflexes

Newborn reflexes in the first moments and even months of life form the building blocks of future development. Movement that starts out as a reflex soon turns into purposeful, cognitive and physical activity. Your health care provider will test your newborn for these reflexes soon after birth and again at your first check-ups. You can test these reflexes yourself as well.


Sucking Reflex

Baby girl drinking bottle
Baby's sucking reflex. JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images

If you touch the roof of your baby’s mouth with your finger, a pacifier or a nipple, he will instinctively begin sucking. Around 2 to 3 months of age, your baby’s sucking will be a result of conscious effort and no longer a reflex.


Rooting Reflex

Mother touching baby boy's cheek
Emma Kim / Getty Images

If you stroke your newborn’s cheek, he will open his mouth and turn his head toward the side that was stroked a seek out your nipple or other sources of food. After about 4 months, this reflex disappears, but can last longer (especially when your baby is sleeping).


Grasp Reflex

Tiny grip
Pete Ark / Getty Images

If you place your finger or other slim objects in your baby’s palm, his fingers will grasp the object tightly—this is more specifically known as the palmar reflex. This reflex is also present in the feet causing the toes to curl, known as the plantar reflex.. It can be tested by lightly touching your baby’s feet or toes. The palmar reflex only lasts until your child is about 6 months old. The plantar reflex can last until 9-12 months.


Stepping Reflex

Caucasian mother helping baby son climb stairs
Marc Romanelli / Getty Images

If you carefully support your baby underneath his arms, lean him slightly forward and lower his feet onto a hard, flat surface, he will make a walking motion. This reflex lasts about 2 months.


Startle Reflex

Mother kissing baby
Fancy/Veer/Corbis / Getty Images

If your baby gets a sense of falling or hears a loud noise like a dog barking or door shutting, he will extend his arms and legs, open his fingers and arch his back. Then he will clench his fists and pull his arms to his chest. Your baby may also cry. This reflex (also called the Moro reflex) lasts until 3-6 months of age.


Fencing Reflex

Baby asleep on the bed
Sally Anscombe / Getty Images

The reflex is elicited while a child is lying on his back by turning the head to one side, say right. The reflex occurs whereby the right side limbs will extend straight, and the left side limbs will flex. And vice versa when the head is turned to the left side. This reflex can be present up to about 6 months of age or about the time your baby begins rolling over (back-to-stomach) competently and regularly.

1 Source
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  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Newborn Reflexes.

By Stephanie Brown
Stephanie Brown is a parenting writer with experience in the Head Start program and in NAEYC accredited child care centers.