by Heather Owens
When you hold a newborn baby, in so many ways she appears to be tiny and helpless. It's hard to believe that a baby is in fact a highly developed being. Perhaps she hasn't learned how to put everything together yet, but all the building blocks are there, just waiting to be used.
One of the most amazing things about a baby is his instinctive reflexes. A health professional will check these reflexes, because their presence shows that baby's central nervous system is working properly. These reflexes exist to help nurture your baby, as well as protect him. Most reflexes last only for the first few weeks, and will gradually be replaced by voluntary, controlled movements as baby's development progresses.
If you gently touch your baby's cheek with a finger or breast, baby will instinctively turn that way and open his mouth, ready for food. After about 12 weeks this reflex disappears, which is probably just as well! Mind you, sometimes when a toddler is being fussy about food, mouth closed, arms crossed, it would be nice to gently tap him on the cheek with the spoon and watch his mouth open.
The sucking reflex is also designed to help nurture your baby. If you place a clean finger in baby's mouth, he will start to suck on it. This sucking reflex is essential for feeding in the early months, although by the time solids are introduced it has usually disappeared. Sucking can also help a baby to relax -- both my babies used to love sucking on one of my knuckles when they were a bit cross or tired -- they found it very soothing.
We've all tried this one -- put your finger in the palm of baby's hand, and he will instinctively grasp it. Babies respond to pressure on their palms up until about 3 months old.
When you lay baby on her stomach, she will bend her legs and poke her bottom in the air -- the crawling position. She'll continue to do this for a couple of months, after which she will be able to lie flat on his stomach.
If you lift a baby upright, and let his feet touch the floor, his legs will start to make a walking motion. Many babies do this for the first month or so. Be very careful though -- baby's neck muscles are still very weak, and his head should also be supported in an upright position. Once this reflex disappears, baby won't be ready to try walking again until around the 12-month mark.
I'm not sure I'm keen to test this one, but babies have a diving reflex. If your baby is placed in water, either at birth or later in a swimming pool, his throat will automatically close so that he can't swallow any water. So baby won't drown if born in water, and is in fact a natural swimmer. Usually this reflex lasts for about 2 months, although it can be extended if you regularly take baby swimming.
If you stroke the sole of baby's foot, hher big toe will curl up, while hher other toes will spread out. I'm not sure why baby does this, although personally I think it's an early stage of being ticklish! Babies will do this automatically for up to two years.
So there you have it -- far from being little blobs that have yet to learn how to do very much, babies are in fact fascinatingly developed. So I hope this article helps you to appreciate all the hidden qualities of your baby.
Copyright © Heather Owens. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.