Incredible Things Your Baby Knows How to Do Automatically - Woodmam

Reflexes are your body’s way of reacting automatically, such as blinking before something hits you in the eye or shooting out your arms when you’re knocked off balance. Like a good buddy, reflexes reassure the brain: “Don’t even think about it. I’ll handle everything.”

All reflexes have the following characteristics:

They are reliable. Every time the doctor hits your knee to test your reflex, your foot jumps out. It can be done five hundred times in a row and always works.

They are automatic. Reflexes work even when you’re asleep.

They require a very specific triggering action. The knee reflex is automatic and reliable only when it’s done in exactly the right way. It won’t work if your knee is hit too softly or an inch too high or low.

Could you imagine having to teach your baby how to suck or poop? Thankfully you don’t have to, because these and more than seventy other automatic reflexes are packed away in your newborn’s compact brain.

Most of these reflexes help your baby during the first months after birth. The rest are either fetal reflexes (useful only during his life inside you), leftover reflexes (valuable to our ancestors millions of years ago, but now just passed from generation to generation, like our intestinal appendix), or mystery reflexes (whose purposes are unknown).

Here’s a list of some common reflexes you’ll probably see your baby performing:

1. Keeping-safe reflexes: These protective reflexes help prevent accidental injury. (Most are so important they continue to work in adults.)

Crying—Crying, the “mother” of all baby safety reflexes, can be triggered by any sudden distress and is extraordinarily effective at getting your attention.

Sneezing—Your newborn’s sneeze usually isn’t a sign of a cold; rather, it’s a response to irritating dust and mucous his body is trying to rid from the nose.

2. Getting-a-meal reflexes: Even though no food ever passed your fetus’s lips, from the moment of birth he was ready to receive and enjoy your milk.

Rooting—When you touch your baby’s cheek or lips, his face will turn toward the touch and his mouth will open and then shut. This reflex helps your baby locate and grasp your nipple, even in the dark. But don’t worry if you stroke your baby’s cheek and he doesn’t respond. This is a smart reflex: It’s not there until he’s hungry. That’s why the rooting reflex is a great way for you to tell if your baby is crying because he wants to eat. If you touch his mouth and he doesn’t root, he probably is not crying for food.

Sucking—Your baby practiced this complex reflex even before birth. Many parents have ultrasound photos of their little cuties sucking their thumbs, weeks before delivery.

3. Fetal and leftover reflexes: These reflexes either help our fetuses before they are born or were useful only to our distant animal ancestors.

Step—Holding your baby upright, let the sole of one foot press onto a flat surface. In a few seconds, that leg will straighten and the other will bend. This reflex helps babies move around a little during the last months of pregnancy, thus helping to prevent pressure sores and getting the fetus into position for delivery.

Grasping—If you press your finger into the base of your baby’s toes or fingers, he will grab on tightly, even when he’s sleeping. This reflex is critically important for newborn apes! It helps them cling to their mother’s fur while she’s moving through the jungle. (Be careful. It works on dads with hairy chests too!)

The Moro reflex—This extremely important leftover reflex protected our ancient relatives carrying their babies through the trees. It’s the “I’m falling” reflex activated the second your baby gets startled (by a jolt, loud noise, or a dream).

The Moro reflex makes your baby’s arms shoot out and around, as if he’s trying to grab hold of you. This venerable response probably kept countless baby monkeys from falling out of their mother’s arms. (Adults who fall asleep in a chair and whose heads suddenly drop back may also experience this reflex.)

As your baby matures his newborn reflexes will gradually get packed away and forgotten, like tattered old teddy bears. However, at the beginning of life, these invaluable responses are some of the best baby gifts a mother could ever hope for.

There is one more built-in, newborn response that parents in my practice think is the most wonderful reflex of all: the calming reflex.
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