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Movement, Coordination, and Your Newborn

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD

Babies are born with some reflexes. They respond naturally to things like light or touch in certain ways. If you put your finger in your newborn's hand, for example, the baby probably will take hold of it. If you lightly touch around the baby's mouth, your little one will likely make a sucking motion.

How Is My Baby Moving?

Babies usually display rooting, sucking, startle, grasp, and tonic neck reflexes soon after birth. These reflexes are involuntary movements that are a normal part of infant development. These early reflexes gradually disappear as babies mature, usually by the time they are 3–6 months old.

The rooting and sucking reflexes help a newborn get nourishment. Rooting prompts an infant to automatically turn in the direction of a food source, whether that's a breast or a bottle. You can see this response if you gently stroke your newborn's cheek near the mouth with your hand. Your infant will turn in that direction, mouth open, ready to suck. When a breast or a bottle nipple is placed in the baby's mouth, the baby will reflexively begin to suck.

A baby is also born with a startle response called the Moro reflex. An infant who is startled (for example, by a loud noise) or abruptly moved may respond by throwing out his or her arms and legs and curling them in again.

Your baby also may show a grasp reflex by taking hold of your finger when you place it in his or her palm. If you touch the sole of your newborn's foot, it will flex and the toes will curl.

A baby will also likely show the tonic neck reflex, or fencer's pose. This happens when a newborn's head is turned to one side and the infant automatically straightens the arm on that side of the body while bending the opposite arm.

How Can I Encourage My Baby?

As your baby grows, these reflexes will become less noticeable and more purposeful movements will develop.

Give your baby space to stretch and move the arms and legs. Let your baby spend some time on the tummy when awake and alert to help strengthen back and neck muscles. Always stay with your baby during tummy time.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Your baby's doctor will check these reflexes as part of your baby's routine physical examinations, making sure they're present and the same on both sides, and taking note of when they disappear.

Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your baby's movements.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: June 2019