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Movement, Coordination, and Your Newborn

Babies are born with newborn reflexes. These are involuntary movements that are a normal part of infant development. For example, if you put your finger in your newborn's hand, the baby will take hold of it.

How Is My Baby Moving?

Newborn reflexes show up soon after birth. They include:

  • Rooting and sucking reflex. This reflex helps 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 their 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.
  • Moro reflex. Your baby’s startle response is called the Moro reflex. A baby who is startled (for example, by a loud noise) or abruptly moved may respond by throwing out their arms and legs and curling them in again.
  • Grasp reflex. Your baby will show a grasp reflex by taking hold of your finger when you place it in their palm. If you touch the sole of your newborn's foot, it will flex and the toes will curl.
  • The tonic neck reflex. Also called the fencer's pose, this happens when a newborn's head is turned to one side. The infant automatically straightens the arm on that side of the body while bending the opposite arm.

These early reflexes gradually disappear as babies mature, usually by the time they are 3–6 months old.

How Can I Encourage My Baby?

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

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

When Should I Call the Doctor?

The doctor will check newborn reflexes as part of your baby's routine checkups, making sure they're the same on both sides, and taking note of when they disappear. Be sure to tell your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your baby's movements.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: May 2022