If anything were to happen to your baby, he or she would be one hundred percent helpless. It’s a sad realization, but human babies have very few defenses and without your supervision, they are extremely vulnerable. Luckily, most modern mothers don’t let their babies out of their sight, so vulnerability is rarely an issue. While they might not be able to defend themselves against predators or external forces, babies are actually born with a few reflexes to help them avoid instinctively threatening issues. One such reflex is called the Moro reflex. Few mothers know exactly what it is, but almost all mothers have seen their babies use it. All healthy and developmentally normal babies are born with the reflex, and it is technically a response to the feeling of falling.

Normally, babies have the Moro reflex until they are approximately four months old. Doctors will check your baby for the Moro reflex right after birth to ensure that there are no related problems with his or her motor development. Since the reflex is to prevent a baby from falling, the test that the doctor will administer is supposed to simulate that sensation by gently dropping the head for a moment. In an effort to “catch” himself, your baby will become alert and quickly move both arms to the side with the thumbs flexed. Often, babies cry after the initial reflex movement. If you were a mother carrying her baby around while performing manual labor as moms of the past did, this reflex would alert you that your baby has lost his grip and it would give you time to catch him. Now, the reflex shows up more commonly when a loud noise startles the baby or when he or she is jolted suddenly by a clumsy parent bumping into the crib.

Though the intentions of the reflex aren’t applicable to many modern babies, it is still interesting to see the instinctive movement that your own baby was born with. There aren’t many instincts that humans rely on because technology and inventions have diminished the need for them. However, newborn babies are unsure of how their environment will be, and the Moro reflex will be present in even the most safe and sound babies with no real risk of falling at any point in their infancy. Though you might see it, hopefully your baby will never actually need the Moro reflex.

Source: Yasuyuki Futagi et al: The Grasp Reflex and Moro Reflex in Infants. International Journal of Pediatrics Volume 2012 March 2012

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