Early reflexes in your baby

These instinctive reactions help your baby to meet his essential requirements while he’s at his most vulnerable

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Grasping

Your newborn is born with a very strong grip – as you’ll soon discover when he hangs on to your finger!

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What to look for:

At around two months, your baby will lose this particular reflex, and you’ll notice that he’ll be unable to hold on to an object for long and will often drop things. ‘Losing this reflex is an important stage in the development of voluntary hand and finger control,’ says John Wyatt, Professor of neonatal paediatrics at University College London. ‘After three months of age, babies start to watch their own hands and practise making finger movements.’

Top tip

You can test the grasp reflex by stroking the palm of your baby’s hand, which will usually close into a tight grip.

Rooting and sucking

Your little one’s rooting and sucking reflexes are in place from birth. In fact, they started developing from week 32 of pregnancy and were strong by about 36 weeks (so that your baby will still know how to feed if he’s born prematurely).

What to look for:

Newborn babies also have a hand-to-mouth reflex, which is why they like to suck on their own fingers or fists.

Top tip

Try stroking the corner of your baby’s mouth: he should turn his head and open his mouth. If you’re breastfeeding, wait until your baby’s jaws are wide open before offering your breast. Then make sure that he takes a good mouthful of breast tissue. His jaws should ‘work’ the breast tissue to pump the milk, rather than clamping the nipple.

Crying

Crying is an automatic response to filling the lungs with oxygen for the first time, and is the first sound your baby will ever make. It is your baby’s main way of communicating with you, although it’s also a way of simply exercising the lungs – it’s not always a sign of distress.

What to look for:

Different cries mean different things, and you’ll soon come to distinguish between the cries that suggest your baby is hungry, dirty, tired, uncomfortable, irritable or unwell. This may sound tricky, but the full range of cries will be in place right from day one, so you’ll get lots of opportunities to practise!

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Top tip

It’s a good idea to draw up a checklist of things that you can eliminate when your baby cries. That way you’ll be able to soothe your baby efficiently while you learn what each cry means.

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