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Innate Behavior in Infants

While many of an infants initial behaviors are instinctual and not learned, certain of these
automatic reflexes disappear within the first few months of life. HealthyChildren.org points
out that much of what an infant does in those first weeks and months after birth is due to
automatic responses. Although some of these innate reflexes go away in time, others
eventually become part of an infants voluntary behavior.

Crying is an innate behavior of infants. An infant doesnt learn how to cry, he just
does it. Infants cry for a lot of different reasons as a means of communicating.
Babies cry when theyre hungry, sleepy, need changing or are otherwise
uncomfortable. They cry when they arent feeling well, are over- or under-stimulated
or just plain lonely and want to be held close. MayoClinic.com says that it wont hurt
your baby if you have to let him cry a bit once youve seen to his needs.
Sucking is an automatic reflex to a newborn. Sometimes the reflex is present even
before birth as infants often suck their thumbs while still in the womb. In her book,
The Ecological Standards of Breastfeeding, La Leche League leader Sheila Kippley
points outs that sucking is one of an infants most common innate behaviors. After
birth, infants rely on the sucking reflex for both nourishment and comfort. Sucking on
their fingers or a fist is a natural response that most infants use to soothe
Grasp Reflexes
A reflex is an automatic, involuntary action, usually in response to a certain
stimulus. For example, an infant will grip your finger when you stroke the palm of her
hand or she will curl her toes when you stroke the bottom of her foot. While an
infants grasp in those first weeks of life may feel strong, its only a reflex she cant
control. This grasp reflex is an innate behavior that normally decreases during the
second month and is absent by the time an infant is 3 months old. At 4 months, a
baby begins to grasp objects voluntarily. As she grows, she gains more control over
her movements so that her grasping becomes more voluntary.
Response to Stimuli
Infants produce automatic reflexes in response to stimuli in their environments. For
example, newborns are sensitive to light and will automatically shut their eyes to
glare. An infant usually awakens to touch and will instinctively start to suck if you
lightly stroke the corner of her mouth. Although newborns respond to their mothers
voices from the first day, loud and sudden noises will startle them. The Moro, or
startle, reflex, is an involuntary response normally present at birth. Infants react
when startled by throwing their arms out to the side. The Moro usually disappears by
the time an infant is 6 months old.
Newborn Reflexes
Reflexes are involuntary movements or actions. Some movements are
spontaneous and occur as part of the baby's normal activity. Others are
responses to certain actions. Healthcare providers check reflexes to
determine if the brain and nervous system are working well. Some reflexes
occur only in specific periods of development. The following are some of the
normal reflexes seen in newborn babies:

Rooting reflex
This reflex begins when the corner of the baby's mouth is stroked or touched.
The baby will turn his or her head and open his or her mouth to follow and root
in the direction of the stroking. This helps the baby find the breast or bottle to
begin feeding. This reflex lasts about 4 months.

Suck reflex
Rooting helps the baby become ready to suck. When the roof of the baby's
mouth is touched, the baby will begin to suck. This reflex does not begin until
about the 32nd week of pregnancy and is not fully developed until about 36
weeks. Premature babies may have a weak or immature sucking ability
because of this. Because babies also have a hand-to-mouth reflex that goes
with rooting and sucking, they may suck on their fingers or hands.

Moro reflex
The Moro reflex is often called a startle reflex. Thats because it usually occurs
when a baby is startled by a loud sound or movement. In response to the
sound, the baby throws back his or her head, extends out his or her arms and
legs, cries, then pulls the arms and legs back in. A baby's own cry can startle
him or her and trigger this reflex. This reflex lasts until the baby is about 2
months old.

Tonic neck reflex

When a baby's head is turned to one side, the arm on that side stretches out
and the opposite arm bends up at the elbow. This is often called the fencing
position. This reflex lasts until the baby is about 5 to 7 months old.
Grasp reflex
Stroking the palm of a baby's hand causes the baby to close his or her fingers
in a grasp. The grasp reflex lasts until the baby is about 5 to 6 months old. A
similar reflex in the toes lasts until 9 to 12 months.

Stepping reflex
This reflex is also called the walking or dance reflex because a baby appears
to take steps or dance when held upright with his or her feet touching a solid
surface. This reflex lasts about 2 months.