Understanding the Stepping Reflex in Newborns

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Baby taking steps

Newborns perform some incredible feats and the stepping reflex is perhaps one of the most amazing ones. Who knew your baby could “walk” before the age of two months? Well, he really can’t…but if you hold him upright with his feet on a flat surface, he will lift one foot and then the other. This stepping reflex (also known as Dance Reflex or Walking Reflex) is an important part of his development; preparing him to take real steps several months down the road.

Note: If you decide to try this at home, however, be careful to support the weight of your newborn’s head. 

Understanding Newborn Reflexes

The stepping reflex is just one of many involuntary movements newborns make when learning to adjust to their new world outside of the womb. And it doesn’t last forever. Like other newborn reflexes, these motions typically disappear between 3 and 6 months of age with the majority ending at 4 months.

  • Moro reflex (or startle reflex): When triggered by a loud noise or other environmental stimuli, your newborn will extends his arms, legs and fingers and arch. 
  • Sucking reflex: Touching the roof of your baby’s mouth with your finger, a pacifier or a nipple will prompt your infant to begin sucking. 
  • Rooting reflex: With a simple stroke of a cheek, your newborn will open his mouth, turning your head toward the side that was stroked in search of the breast or bottle to begin feeding. 
  • Tonic neck reflex (or fencing reflex): Place your baby on his back and he’ll likely assume the “fencing position.” His head will turn with the arm and leg of one side extended (the pair on the side he’s turned toward) and his other arm and leg will be flexed.
  • Palmar grasp: This reflex enables your little one to curl his fingers around your finger or object. It can be triggered by stroking his palm with your finger.
  • Plantar grasp (or Babinski reflex): Watch your little one spread open his toes and turn his foot inward after you stroke the sole of his foot.

    Are you concerned that your little one is missing one of these reflexes? Or, perhaps, the movement seems weak. Contact your pediatrician. Birth traumas, medications, and illness can cause problems with newborn development. Conversely, if your infant does not outgrow one of these responses, it could also signal brain or nervous system damage. 

    Where to Go From Here

    Now that you have a better understanding of the stepping reflex (along with other newborn reflexes), you might also be interested in reading about a few other common baby moves and sounds, like normal newborn breathing patterns.

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