Ever wonder why your newborn's arms are always raised in his sleep? Here's what you need to know about tonic neck reflex in babies.
In this article, you'll read:
- Tonic neck reflex in newborns
- How do you check for tonic neck reflex?
- Up to when is it normal?
Do you sometimes see your newborn lying down on their back looking like a fencer getting ready with their sword? It may look weird but it's just one of the many reflexes that your baby has. These funny-looking postures actually mean that your baby's brain and nervous system are developing so you probably don't have to worry.
This one in particular where your baby's head is turned to the same side as their outstretched arm with their other arm bent at the elbow is called tonic neck reflex. To help new parents be better informed, we have here a comprehensive guide with all that you need to know about this automatic response in babies.
What Is Tonic Neck Reflex?
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Tonic neck reflex, or the "fencing" posture actually start in the womb 18 weeks after conception. In fact, this early reflex is believed to help your baby make his way down the birth canal. Moreover, the tonic neck reflex may also help your newborn discover their hands and develop hand-eye coordination.
According to Healthline, it can last until your baby is around 5 to 7 months old.
If your newborn is on their back, their head will turn to one side while their arm and often their leg on the same side would extend. The opposite arm will then bend at the elbow and vice versa. It is also called the fencing reflex because your baby's posture looks like they are ready to grasp a sword and say, "En garde!"
The movement may even help your newborn discover their hands and develop early hand-eye coordination.
Testing For Tonic Neck Reflex
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With a paediatrician
During your baby's checkup with the paediatrician, they may test for tonic neck reflex along with other hard-wired newborn responses.
While your newborn is lying down, the paediatrician will gently turn their head to one side. They will then check if one arm will extend while the opposite arm bends. Your baby's head will be turned to the other side to see if the same movement occurs.
You can also observe tonic neck reflex while at home. Just put your baby on their back and gently turn their head to the left. Then when the reflex happens, your baby will reach out their left arm while flexing their right one next to their head.
You can then gently turn your baby's head to the right. Their right arm will extend and their left will flex.
If your baby does not always react with this reflex, you don't have to worry right away as every child is different and it can depend on how relaxed they are.
When You Should Be Worried?
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It's important to continue observing your newborn baby's reflexes. Your paediatrician checks this to know the development of your child's brain and nervous system. Here are a few things you should look out for to know when to call a doctor:
- Whether your baby's fencing posture occurs equally.
When your baby turns their head to the left, their left arm should be extending and their right arm slightly bent. then when they face right, their right arm is the one extending and their left arm is bent. You should contact a doctor if one side or the other looks different.
- It's time to call your paediatrician if your baby is moving one side of their body better than the other.
- There might be a problem with your baby's nervous system if the tonic neck reflex goes away for a while then returns.
- You should also let your doctor know if the reflex is gone before around 4 to 5 months or if it stays over 7 months and into toddlerhood.
Reflexes are one of the things that let us know our babies are developing naturally. But if you notice something unusual with your newborn's movements, don't hesitate to consult your child's doctor about it.
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