7 Most Important Reflexes: Baby Sucking Reflex and More

Natural newborn reflexes are best explained in “The nature of a newborn reflex is that the baby doesn’t have to think about what to do, but rather does things instinctively. Like a baby sucking reflex is a natural newborn reflex.”, said pediatrician expert Edith J. Chernoff, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago.

Newborn reflexes are very normal on every newborn, but sometimes these natural reflexes can bring a lot of confusions to the caregiver. For example, at times you might mistake that your baby’s reflex action as either a symptom of a problem or your child trying to tell you she needs something.

As a parent, it’s important to understand the 7 most important reflexes in your newborn so that it does not cause you confusion. (There are many other reflexes in a newborn too but will not be covered in this article. In this article we’ll highlight on the 7 main newborn reflexes.)

What Reflexes Should Be Present In a Newborn?

Reflexes are involuntary movements or actions involving muscle reaction in response to a particular sensory stimulus. For instance, a baby sucking reflex naturally happens when you put your nipple into your her mouth.

It is worth to note that, these newborn reflexes is a good telltale sign to help you to identify if your newborn brain and nerve has developed normally.

Newborn reflexes is a good telltale-sign to help you to identify if your newborn brain and nerve has developed normally. #NewbornFact

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Based on their period of occurrence, reflex actions can be classified into 'Primitive Reflexes' and ‘Life-Long’ reflexes.

Primitive Reflexes

Primitive reflexes, also commonly known as infantile reflexes are reflex actions that are exhibited by normal infants and have their origin in the central nervous system (CNS).

Infantile reflexes only happen from newborn to infant stage and after that, the reflex gradually fades away. If any of these reflexes persisted beyond infancy stage, you should treat it with caution and speak with your doctor if such situation happens.

Newborn reflexes play a crucial role in the baby’s body. This is because they help in the baby’s brain stimulation to improve attention and also in the controlling of impulses; this translates to a diminishing of baby’s hyperactivity.

Newborn reflexes play a crucial role in baby’s brain stimulation in order to improve attention. #NewbornFact

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Life-long Reflexes

Life-long reflexes are those kinds of reflex actions that persist and can be exhibited in your baby’s body for his/her entire life. This sharply contrasts the primitive reflexes, which won’t be maintained since they hardly occur when the child has grown up.

What are the Different Types of Primitive Reflexes?

While your baby can perform many types of primitive reflexes but these 7 reflexes are the most common. Understanding the meaning of these newborn reflexes will help you to understand your baby better.

The chart below exhibits a general view of how long a newborn reflex takes to disappear.


Age When Reflex Appears

Age When Reflex Disappears

Moro reflex


2 months

Step Reflex


2 months

Suck Reflex


3 months

Root reflex


4 months

Tonic Neck Reflex


5-7 months

Grasp reflex


5-6 months

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

Primitive reflexes include…

  • Sucking reflex
  • Startle reflex (Moro reflex)
  • Rooting reflex
  • Grasp reflex (Darwinian reflex)
  • Tonic neck reflex
  • Babinski reflex
  • Step reflex

Let's look further into each reflexes.

​Suck reflex

This is a type of baby sucking reflex, which occurs when the baby makes sucking motions when the area around its mouth (the roof of the baby’s mouth) is gently touched.

Sometime, the sucking reflex is an automatic response and not a clear sign of hunger. Don’t be confuse by this reflex and keep feeding your baby or otherwise she will end up lactose overload.

​Startle reflex

This is the kind of a reflex, which is commonly exhibited at birth. However, it usually disappears after either 3 or 4 months, but if it’s maintained, there exist a high likelihood of that he may become over reactive to stimulus.

This will in turn translates to sensory overloads, anxiety and emotions as well as poor impulse control. You can commonly see this reflex from you baby while sleeping. It’s those time when your baby make a sudden movement and cry out loud.

Root reflex

This kind of reflex normally occurs when the infant’s cheek is stroked. The immediate impact of this is that the baby will turn towards the stroked side and almost simultaneously; it will begin to make sucking motions.

This comes out as an advantage as it assists in the breastfeeding act. It is worth to note that, any exhibition of the retention of rooting reflex beyond 4 months may have some impacts. These include thumb sucking as well as poor articulation.

Grasp reflex

This is the kind of reflex that occurs when you place a finger on the open palm of your child. Automatically, her palm will in turn close around your finger.

Efforts to remove the finger only make the grip even tighter. This cute reflex sometime is so strong that you can almost lift your baby up in case both palms are grasping the finger placed.

Tonic neck reflex

This occurs when your baby’s head turns to one side, her arm on that side will straighten, with the opposite arm bent as if she’s fencing.

However, to reverse this temporary position, you should turn your baby’s face in the opposite direction.

Here is a video on baby’s tonic neck reflex.

Babinski reflex

This occurs when the outside of your baby foot’s sole is stimulated; this has an effect of causing an unusual extension of the big toe as well as fanning the other toes.

The simulation may be started from the heel all the way to the base of the baby’s toes. This reflex is normally used to ascertain the adequateness of the central nervous system.

Can’t image how a Babinski reflex looks like? Then watch this cute video instead.

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Step reflex

This is the type of primitive reflex, which occurs when your baby is held upright with its feet touches a solid surface.

Your baby will be seen as it taking step as its name suggests. It is sometimes referred to as dancing reflex since the baby in that position appears to be dancing.

Life-long Reflexes In Your Baby

These reflexes are maintained all through the entire life of your baby. Unlike primitive reflexes like the baby sucking reflex usually fades by around 3 months of age.

While your baby will maintain many other life-long reflexes but these 3 reflexes are the one that commonly cause confusion.

  • Gastro-colic reflex
  • Gag reflex
  • Defecation reflex
Gastro-colic reflex

It is also referred to as gastro-colic. Sometime you can get mistaken that this reflex from your baby means a sign of pain, which is not.

For example, sometime your baby might pull away abruptly during feeding, fidgets, grunts, passes some gas or a poop and then returns to feeding, and this is due to the gastro-colic reflex.

​This is completely normal. Feeding stimulates the gastro-colic reflex, which triggers movement in your baby’s guts, which can triggers an urge to poop. Just image like an adult usually has the urge to poop after drank a cup coffee.

​Also, a hypersensitive of the gastro-colic reflex is one of the many theories why an infant can suffer from colic.

Gag reflex

This is also commonly known as 'laryngeal spasm'. It refers to the contractor movements of the back of the throat that is triggered by touching the roof of the mouth, the uvula, around the tonsils’ area, the back of the tongue as well as the back of the throat.

It is one of the most outstanding reflex at it plays a crucial role as it acts as the body’s defense mechanism against chocking.

Usually this happen when your baby gulp down her milk too fast, and she may gag. While adult does not gag that often because we already learn how to control the way we swallow but your baby still lack of this skill.

So the next times when you see your baby throw out some of her milk or food, that does not mean she dislike it but all due to gag reflex.

Defecation reflex

In short this reflex can easily refer to your baby need to pass motion. This reflex is triggered by the expansion or filling of your baby's rectum (the part of her bowel closest to her anus).

For your baby to pass motion it relies on both the defecation reflex and increasing pressure in the abdomen, which assists to push the stools out.

When this reflex happens in your baby, you can usually see your baby’s face turn red, grunt or groan. While it can be easily mistaken as a sign of constipation, but it’s not.

A potty training will increase your child skill to control this reflex and make their toiler experience a much pleasant one.

Now You Know

Newborn reflexes (primitive and live-long reflexes) are crucial reaction your newborn demonstrates as part of their survival in this world. So instead of getting confused and trying to fix them, let’s embrace it and know that it’s these reflexes that help them grow up healthily.

There you have it. If you find any part of this article is helpful, please share with anyone that you think will find this article to be beneficial for them too.

Talk to you soon and as always, stay AWESOME!

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