You know what the great thing about babies is? They are like little bundles of hope. Like the future in a basket. You take your baby for the first pediatric evaluation and, among other things, your pediatrician checks for the presence of Moro reflex: an important indication of a normal and developing nervous system in your newborn. Everything is normal and you don’t give this Moro reflex much thought, until it starts waking up your baby mid sleep and the troubles with sleeplessness begin.
Moro Reflex: What is Moro Reflex and Ways to Reduce
What is Moro Reflex?
The Moro reflex is an infantile reflex normally present in all infants/newborns up to 3 or 4 months of age as a response to a sudden loss of support, when the infant feels as if it is falling. It involves three distinct components:
- spreading out the arms
- unspreading the arms
The Moro reflex occurs when a baby is sleeping and is suddenly started awake.
What does the Moro reflex look like?
The Moro reflex definition isn’t like the nice slow gradual wake ups we long for on lazy Sunday mornings; the Moro wake up is quick and abrupt. Most babies inhale sharply while their arms fly up over their heads. Baby pulls his knees up to his chest, and eventually he will lower his arms, cross them, and return to a fetal position.
When a baby experiences the Moro reflex, he won’t be able to settle back down on his own. The sensation of the Moro reflex is very jarring and can even scare a baby since he perceives the event as a free fall. Imagine you were sleeping and when you woke up, you falling out of a sky diving plane. Terrifying, right? Although that is an improbable situation, that is the sensation that baby feels – even if he’s not really falling. When the Moro reflex is evoked, the baby has a two phase reaction:
The baby will experience what can be best described as a sensation of free-falling, where the baby reacts by lifting and stretching their arms. She may even let out a sharp gasp.
The baby will curl the arms and legs closer to their body into a slight fetal position.
Is the Moro reflex an issue? Well, the answer to that question is yes and no. On one hand, a baby demonstrating the Moro reflex is demonstrating the health of his nervous system so there’s no issue in that sense.
Just to repeat: the presence of the Moro reflex is a good thing.
On the other hand, however, when a baby flails and wakes himself up, he is very likely to be upset and cry. Who wouldn’t be upset when a cozy nap is so suddenly interrupted?
Ways to reduce the Moro reflex
If the Moro reflex is causing your little bundle of joy to miss out on some sleep, you may be anxious for ways to reduce the Moro reflex
- Swaddling:Because studies show that swaddling has a “significant inhibitory effect” on the Moro reflex, swaddling your baby may be a good option for reducing Moro-induced wake ups. To avoid overheating, opt for a lightweight, natural fabric such a muslin swaddling blanket. Regardless of what you swaddle your baby with, swaddling works because the baby feels safe and secure – a feeling much like being snuggled close to Mama in the womb.
- Baby wearing:One of the trickiest parts of laying a baby down for a nap is the actual laying-baby-down bit. Baby wearing solves that problem because the baby is literally touching Mama (or Papa) so there is closeness, warmth, and love. This is a great choice for keeping baby calm.
- Co-sleeping:Co-sleeping can be a beautiful arrangement, but a bouncy mattress or a parent that tosses and turns all night can stimulate the Moro reflex quicker than you can say Lights Out. If you co-sleep, avoid sudden moves and –if feasible – invest in a new non-noisy, non-bouncy (preferable natural) mattress.
- Transferring baby:Have you ever sung multiple lullabies, swayed for hours (okay, it just seems like hours), and shushed and kissed your baby to sleep and then you went to lay him down and THEN HE SUDDENLY WAKES UP? It’s frustrating, but transferring your baby (to your bed, or a co-sleeper attachment) can be improved. Lay your baby down gently and slowly. Try not to move too fast or lighten your grip; you want to avoid that unsupported feeling. Once your baby is laid down, keep your hands on him for a moment or two. Then, release your hands slowly. The sudden removal of your hands can feel scary to a newborn.
Your baby’s startle reflexes will begin to disappear as they grow. By the time your baby is 3 to 6 months old, they probably won’t demonstrate the Moro reflex any longer. They’ll have more control over their movements, and their reflexes will become less jerky.
You can help your baby progress by making time every day for movement. Give your baby space to stretch their arms and legs. This will help them tone and strengthen their muscles. Even newborn babies should have the opportunity to move, including their little heads. Just be careful to provide support to your baby’s head and neck when you’re holding them.
When a baby doesn’t have normal reflexes, it can be sign of potential problems. If the Moro reflex is lacking on one side of your baby’s body, it can be the result of a broken shoulder or a nerve injury. If the reflex is lacking on both sides, it might suggest brain or spinal cord damage.
Don’t be overly concerned if you haven’t noticed your baby’s startle reflex. Your baby’s doctor will be able to determine whether your baby’s Moro reflex is present and normal. Your doctor will guide you accordingly.