My 4-month-old baby will be laying on the bed and suddenly throw out his arms like something has frightened him or he’s fallen and start screaming hysterically?? I’m not sure why? Is something wrong with him?
Baby Help Line:
The Startle Reflex In Newborn Babies
What beautiful children, and such a lovely photo.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with your son. What you are seeing is a normal reflex present in all newborn babies. This startle reflex is called the Moro reflex. Because they have not yet got voluntary control over their little bodies, they can startle themselves by a jerk or sudden movement or a loud noise.
Some babies have the reflex movement but don’t seem to be concerned, others think the world is ending!
Babies startle with a sudden noise, or unexpected movement or sometimes even being touched when asleep. As they get more control over their bodies, around 5 – 6 months of age, the reflex disappears. Babies are usually tested for the Moro reflex after birth, as it is a really good indication of normal motor development.
This fear reflex is the only unlearned fear, all others we learn as we develop and experience the world. The reflex will make the baby tighten the body, fling his or her arms up and out and open up his or her usually tightly clenched fists. He or she will draw up the knees, and then bring the arms and re-clenched fists close to his or her body — almost as hugging himself.
You can see a short video clip of the Moro reflex in a newborn baby here below.
Your little boy should grow out of it in the next couple of months, so I wouldn’t be concerned, just comfort him when it happens.
Enjoy your lovely family,
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Paula Dennholt founded Easy Baby Life in 2006 and has been a passionate parenting and pregnancy writer since then. Her parenting approach and writing is based on studies in cognitive-behavioral models and therapy for children and her experience as a mother and stepmother. Life as a parent has convinced her of how crucial it is to put relationships before rules. She strongly believes in positive parenting and a science-based approach.
Paula cooperates with a team of pediatricians that you find here. They write or review all health-related articles.
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Please know that another thing to consider is something called Infantile Spasms, a potentially catastrophic form of infant epilepsy. The seizures often present in a movement that looks an awful lot like the moro startle reflex and are often confused for this by doctors. Here is a video for reference.
If you suspect your child is having this type of seizure please go to your doctor right away.
Thanks a lot, S! There’s another discussion here at Easy BabyLife about babies with Infantile Spasm and other conditions if you want to check it out: https://www.easybabylife.com/baby-is-rolling-eyes.html
When my LO started developing his startle reflex, he would cry
multiple times throughout the night. I didn’t know what to do because
this had been going on for a while and so I asked one of my friends. She
suggested getting the Zipadee-Zip which is this sleeping suit from
Sleeping Baby. I was reluctant at first, but to my surprise it actually
worked. It covered my little guy like a swaddle, he felt soothed and
comforted by the soft-fleece material, and the suit provided just enough
resistance to calm him down whenever his reflex started up.