Infant reflexes
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Infant reflexes

Definition

A reflex is a muscle reaction that happens automatically in response to a certain type of stimulation. Certain sensations or movements produce specific muscle responses.

Alternative Names

Primitive reflexes; Reflexes in infants; Tonic neck reflex; Galant reflex; Truncal incurvation; Rooting reflex; Parachute reflex; Grasp reflex

Considerations

The presence and strength of a reflex is an important sign of nervous system development and function.

Many infant reflexes disappear as the child grows older, although some remain throughout adulthood. The presence of an infant reflex after the age at which the reflex normally disappears can be a sign of brain damage or damage to the nervous system.

Infant reflexes are reflexes that are normal in infants, but abnormal in other age groups. Such reflexes include:

  • Moro reflex
  • Sucking reflex (sucks when area around mouth is touched).
  • Startle reflex (pulling arms and legs in after hearing loud noise).
  • Step reflex (stepping motions when sole of foot touches hard surface).

Other infant reflexes include:

The TONIC NECK REFLEX occurs when you move the head of a child who is relaxed and lying on his back to the side. The arm on the side where the head is facing reaches straight away from the body with the hand partly open. The arm on the side away from the face is flexed and the fist is clenched tightly. Turning the baby's face in the other direction reverses the position. The tonic neck position is often described as the fencer's position because it looks like a fencer's stance.

The TRUNCAL INCURVATION or Galant reflex occurs when you stroke or tap along the side of the spine while the infant lays on the stomach. The infant will twitch his or her hips toward the touch in a “dancing’ movement.

The GRASP REFLEX occurs if you place a finger on the infant's open palm. The hand will close around the finger. Trying to remove the finger causes the grip to tighten. Newborn infants have strong grasps and can almost be lifted up if both hands are grasping your fingers.

The ROOTING REFLEX occurs when you stroke the baby's cheek. The infant will turn toward the side that was stroked and begin to make sucking motions with the mouth.

The PARACHUTE REFLEX occurs in slightly older infants, when you hold the child upright and then rotate his body quickly face forward (as if falling). The baby will extend his arms forward as if to break a fall, even though this reflex appears long before the baby walks.

Examples of reflexes that last into adulthood are:

  • Blinking reflex -- blinking the eyes when they are touched or when a sudden bright light appears
  • Cough reflex -- coughing when the airway is stimulated
  • Gag reflex -- gagging when the throat or back of the mouth is stimulated
  • Sneeze reflex -- sneezing when the nasal passages are irritated
  • Yawn reflex - yawning when the body needs more oxygen

Causes

Infant reflexes can occur in adults who have:

  • Brain damage
  • Stroke

When to Contact a Medical Professional

The health care provider usually discovers abnormal infant reflexes during an exam that is done for another reason. Reflexes that last after they are supposed to have gone away may be a sign of a nervous system problem in the child.

Parents who are worried about their child's development, or who notice that baby reflexes continue in their child after they should have stopped should tell their health care provider.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

The health care provider will perform a physical examination and ask questions about the child's medical history.

Questions may include:

  • What reflexes did the baby have?
  • At what age did each infant reflex disappear?
  • What other symptoms are also present (for example, decreased alertness or seizures)?

Review Date: 12/1/2011
Reviewed By: John Goldenring, MD, MPH, JD, Pediatrician with the Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, San Diego, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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