Have you ever wondered why babies seem to startle so easily? Say hello to the Moro Reflex – your best and worst friend.  Reflexes, including this one, develop in utero and will be present at birth. They are key in the development of infants. A good example is the latch and rooting reflex. It is present in infants so that they facilitate the breastfeeding process on their own. It is an important indicator of a healthy, developing nervous system, much like the Moro reflex.

The Moro reflex is also known as the startle reflex and is commonly seen when a baby is sleeping and is suddenly startled awake. It is quite abrupt. The baby will inhale sharply, flail their arms out to the side and quickly pull them back in. It can be very jarring and can scare them since they perceive the event as a free fall. It is a protective mechanism that is naturally exhibited and is key to their survival when danger presents itself.

The presence of the Moro reflex is a good thing. It signifies a functioning nervous system. However, when the baby constantly wakes himself up, he is likely to be upset and fussy. Who wouldn’t be upset if they were abruptly awoken from a cozy nap?!

During their first six months of life, infants experience a whole new world of sensations and stimuli, much different from their life in the womb. Things that trigger the Moro reflex include: a loud noise, a sudden touch, a change in intensity of light, and shifting movement such as feeling unsupported. While these stimuli cannot always be avoided, there are a few tricks to help make sure sleep is not being interrupted – not only baby’s, but Mom and Dad’s too!

  • Swaddling: This can be a good option for reducing wake-ups during naps and night time. Opt for a lightweight fabric such as a muslin swaddling blanket. This will help baby feel safe and secure, much like the feeling when they are being snuggled close to Mama. There will be more posts to come about how to swaddle safely and appropriately.
  • Babywearing: The hardest part about putting a baby to sleep is actually laying them down. This method will actually help solve that problem. With baby pressed up against mom or dad, it is much more difficult to startle them. They are surrounded in warmth and love and nestled close to their protector. In order to keep baby calm, they are preferably worn facing in and snuggled tight to mom or dad’s chest.
  • Transferring: Once again, the hardest part about putting a baby to sleep is actually transferring them down to their crib. This is a prime time for the Moro reflex will rear its head. Make sure you are not moving too fast or lightening your grip. They need to feel secured and supported the entire time they are being put down into the crib. This includes for a few seconds after they are lying down. Release your hands slowly, as sudden removal can seem very scary to your newborn.

Around six months of age, these reflexes should begin to integrate into your baby’s system and slowly disappear. This is also the time when they start to gain more control of their head and body and will begin rolling over. Presence of this reflex past six months may indicate a hindrance in neurological developments.

Because the Moro reflex is such an important indicator of a healthy nervous system, your chiropractor should be checking for this reflex at birth and again at future visits. Lack of this reflex at birth may signify potential issues with the nervous system and even birth-related injuries. This is why getting your baby checked by your chiropractor as soon as possible after birth is such an important decision.