Since having Marshall, I’ve had babies on the mind way more than usual. It’s fascinating how quickly babies grow, change, learn, and develop. In Marshall’s first few weeks we noticed him startling quite a bit. In school I did take a few developmental classes– but until you spend 24/7 with a newborn it’s really difficult to put all you learn into perspective. Do you know why babies startle? That little reaction is just about the most important thing a baby does as a newborn and it’s very important to understand why. The human baby arrives with a set of reflexes that are designed to help them survive and grow their brain. There are six different reflexes that slowly disappear as a baby develops. Generally all of these reflexes disappear by the time a baby is a year old. These reflexes include stepping, rooting, palmar grasp, moro reflex, tonic neck reflex, and plantar grasp. Of the reflexes, the Moro reflex actually initiates birth and when a baby squeezes out the other side: this reflex actually makes a baby take their first breath. Sounds important right?
You might have noticed that little newborns jump at just about everything... Your arm twitches: bam. Someone walks by: bam. The door shuts: bam. You go to lay them down and: bam. That jump, arms flying, unsettling reaction is actually organizing all the new sensory information a baby’s body is taking in. That startle you see is how a baby’s brain is beginning to understand what movement, sound, sight, and sudden sensation mean. Neurologically it’s a baby’s fight-or-flight mode. That’s why sometimes when your baby startles: they cry and other times they don’t. Their brain gets smarter EVERY SINGLE TIME it fires. It’s the foundation of a baby’s entire nervous system. You are actually watching your baby learn sensory processing in real time. ⠀
The moro reflex is actually the secret to a lifelong good sleeper. You can support a baby’s reflex by understanding it! The beauty of this reflex is that it is extremely short-lived if given free movement. Free movement is lots of play on the floor wiggling those little arms and legs. Or even working on tummy time even if only for a minute or two at a time for the first couple weeks. By 8 weeks old a baby will demonstrate only a partial startle, if given free movement, day and night. By 3 months the startle is nearly non-existent and gone by 4 months. Babies that continue to startle past 6 months are at-risk for abnormal sensory processing. Many parents are never informed about this incredibly important aspect of a baby's development and often parents can lead to searching for answers as to why or how to "fix" the baby from startling. When we don’t understand the importance of this reflex for brain development we then see parents encouraged to suppress this normal, natural, necessary neurological sequence. Letting a baby figure this out on their own by giving them plenty of wiggle time is really the best way for their brains to sort through this new world they are born into. Was your baby’s startle explained to you?
Dr. Doug and Jeanette love teaching people about health and wellness. If we haven't covered a topic that you're interested in, feel free to leave a comment and we'd be happy to give you our thoughts!