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The Newborn Startle Reflex

With the actual dictionary definition of ‘The reflex response of an infant in which the limb and neck muscles contract when the infant is allowed to drop a short distance or is startled by a sudden noise or jolt’ one might wonder if the startle reflex is dangerous for their infant. The answer is no.

newborn-startle-reflex.jpgInfants are born with this primitive reflex, also called the moro reflex, that helps them adapt and adjust to situations. You will often see a newborn jump when laid on a bed, even softly, showing that their muscles and reflexes are working properly. More common is having your baby startle when you start the vacuum cleaner in the room they are in, however not wake up. This is a good sign that your babies hearing is working up to par.

There are several things that may set your babies startle reflex off. They include but are definitely not limited too:

  • Running the vacuum
  • A telephone ringing
  • Being in car seat when it is places on the floor
  • Being touched while asleep
  • Other children screaming
  • Loud crowds
  • TV/Radio turning on/off

If you aren’t sure when your newborn is demonstrating the startle reflex, look for him to quickly extend his arms and legs, and lift his neck when asleep. This may or may not also be followed by a short cry, before he is quickly quiet and back to sleep.

Generally this reflex will be apparent at birth and will generally disappear by the time your newborn is 6 months old. It can often be seen in premature babies born after week 28, as one of their first infantile reflexes.

As always, if you are concerned about any movements your baby is making, go see your pediatrician. Likewise, if you are unsure that your baby has the startle reflex, as the pediatrician at your next visit.

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7 Comments on "The Newborn Startle Reflex"

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3 years 9 months ago

My son used to wake up at night due to the startle reflex, flapping his arms. Swaddling helped that, but then once he started fighting the swaddle I ran into the same issue again. I started using a swaddle transition blanket, the zipadee-zip, and that was great. The zipadee kept his arms somewhat secured, but not so much that he would feel trapped, as he did when I swaddled him.

Danna Krasner
4 years 2 months ago

When my LO started developing his startle reflex, he would cry multiple times throughout the night. Luckily, my friend recommended me to get the Zipadee-Zip and it really helped. This sleeping suit provided a womb-like environment where my little guy felt soothed and comforted whenever his reflex started up.

Carolyn Gregorio
6 years 25 days ago

This is to Jihane: my daughter is 7 wks and I noticed the same reflex patterns you mentioned. Did u find out more?

Thank you,

6 years 4 months ago

My son has 3 months and 20 days, he go through the same movements mentioned above but when there is no noise not asleep nothing just suddenly and 3 times consecutively. is that a normal startle reflex? or something dangerous??

8 years 1 month ago
My baby Was born at 27 weeks, she is now 32 weeks and still in the nicu. One of the nurses who looks after her seems to treat her roughly, she went into a cot today and the nurse didn’t put the cot on the elevated part properly and it dropped down with a big jolt. She also seemed to be scrubbing at her head after she had an ultra sound to get the gel off, right n the soft spot. Also tries to burp her and pats her back to hard for my liking. Am I being paranoid or… Read more »

[…] a certain fold to wrap the baby up and restrict their arm movements, thereby limiting baby’s startle reflex. Evie loves the feeling of being wrapped and secure, and there’s the added bonus of the […]

[…] “The Newborn Startle Reflex” […]

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