Identifying the Reflexes of Newborns

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  • 0:01 Infant Reflexes
  • 1:02 Nervous System Reaction
  • 3:17 Feeding Reflexes
  • 4:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Reflexes allow babies to survive the first few years of life. In this lesson, we'll look at some of the major reflexes of infants, including those that indicate a healthy nervous system response and those designed to help a baby feed itself.

Infant Reflexes

Cora is a new mother, and she's noticed that her son Hardy sometimes does things that seem to be automatic and not planned. For example, if Cora puts her finger to Hardy's lips, he'll suck on the finger as though it was a bottle.

Cora is observing reflexes, or automatic reactions to stimuli. Everyone has reflexes: think about when you eat something that tastes horrible; you might experience a gag reflex that makes your throat and mouth act as though you are going to throw up. The point of a reflex is that it is automatic or uncontrolled. Hardy isn't thinking when he sucks on Cora's finger; he just does it automatically.

Some reflexes are common in healthy infants, but disappear as the infant ages. These infant reflexes are used by medical professionals to test the health of the infant. Let's look closer at two types of infant reflexes: those dealing with nervous system reactions and those dealing with feeding.

Nervous System Reaction

The brain, spinal column, and nerves of a human collectively make up the nervous system. This system is the center of human life; it is with the nervous system that we are able to feel, think and move through our environment.

In adults, nervous system function is relatively easy to spot. If Cora wakes up one day and can't feel her toes, she'll know something is wrong and call for help. But how can Cora know if Hardy's nervous system is working normally? He's a baby and can't communicate if something is wrong.

There are several reflexes that infants, like Hardy, have that demonstrate the ability of the baby's nervous system to respond to stimuli. These are sometimes used to make sure that the nervous system is functioning correctly.

The Babinski reflex, which is also sometimes called the plantar reflex, involves the foot and toes. When the bottom of the baby's foot is stroked, the toes should spread out. If Cora is tickling Hardy's feet and his toes don't move, there might be something wrong with him.

Another reflex that medical professionals sometimes use to test nervous system function is the Moro reflex. This is tricky to administer. It starts with the baby being on a soft, padded surface, like a mattress. The professional supports the baby's head and raises the head just a little, and then lets the head drop back onto the padding.

As you might expect, when the pediatrician does this to Hardy, he looks surprised, and his arms go rigid. This is the exact response that the doctor is looking for. If Hardy wasn't surprised and a little alarmed when his head dropped back, it would signal that there was something wrong with him. Of course, more than any of the other reflexes, the Moro reflex must be tested by a trained professional.

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