This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 10 table of contents.


Newborns come equipped with pre-wired motor programs that help them adapt to the requirements of existence as a baby. For example, each baby's life is saved multiple times by the gag reflex. The gag reflex is a vomiting-like reaction (reverse peristalsis) that occurs automatically when a substance threatens to go down the windpipe into the lungs, instead of down the esophagus into the stomach.

What are some reflexes of newborns?

The sucking reflex has obvious adaptive value for infants. The sucking reflex is complemented by the rooting reflex -an instinctive tendency to turn in the direction of a light touch on the cheek. This helps the baby find the nipple.

Babies have a strong grasp reflex set off by a touch on the palm. They instinctively cling to a parent's hair and clothes. The grasp reflex is strongest in the first weeks after birth. Some babies-not all! -can be suspended upside down from a clothesline during this period, grasping the line with both hands and feet like a tiny tree sloth.

Some of the baby's reflexes foreshadow more advanced abilities to come later. Babies make simple stepping movements if held upright and allowed to touch the balls of their feet lightly to a horizontal surface.

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