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Why Your Newborn Baby Is 'Magugulatin'
PHOTO BY @kieferpix/iStock
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  • You may have observed your newborn be "magugulatin" and probably wondered what causes it. It's typical if he is surprised by a loud noise that wakes him up, but sometimes you might observe it even while he's awake without any stimuli.

    In Pampanga, elders will probably tell you to do this "ritual" about how to prevent your child from getting startled so easily. You hold the baby's two hands and two feet in one hand while he lays on his back. You then sing a few lines from this short, made-up song. As it ends in a crescendo, you quickly release the child's limbs, and of course, the combination of your loud voice, and the sudden release will startle the child even more. But the elders will say that it's how this "pantanggal gulat" is effective.

    Of course, science has a much better explanation.

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    Why does your baby get startled?

    First off, if you are a new parent, you don't need to be worried about it at all. Your newborn baby getting startled from time to time is part of his development. It's called the Moro reflex, or the startle reflex, and it's one of several involuntary reflexes babies are born with. It is possibly related to the human instinct to protect the body from harm and be able to survive.

    You'll know it's happening when you see your child suddenly jolt from stillness, then instinctively extend his arms and legs before pulling them back close to his chest. This may last for a few seconds. He may also arch his back and let out a cry.


    You will observe this reflex in your newborn from the time of his birth up until around his 4th month of life. It will eventually disappear as he gets used to his new surroundings.

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    What if your baby never gets startled?

    If your baby doesn't seem to get startled, it's possible that he just does not surprise easily or does so subtly. However, parents are advised to observe their newborn carefully and relay what they see to their pediatrician because the absence of the startle reflex could indicate neurological problems or an injury in his spinal cord. Only the doctor could determine if this is so through several tests.

    How to keep baby from waking up due to startle reflex

    1. Keep the baby close to you.

    If you're holding your sleeping baby and want to place him on the crib, keep him close to you as much as possible, being very careful in laying him down before you pull away. By doing this, you lessen the possibility of triggering the "free-fall" feeling where the Moro reflex usually starts from. 

    2. Swaddle your baby. 

    One of the reasons your baby gets startled is because there is a lot of stimuli in the outside world, unlike the womb where he stayed in comfort and quiet for nine months. Swaddling him gives him the same kind of security as he felt while he was still inside your womb, and the familiar comfort may lull him deeper into slumber.

    3. Wear your baby.

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    Even better than swaddling your baby is to wear him using a sling, a wrap, or another form of carrier. Being in constant contact with you and feeling your nearness and your touch helps reduce the startle reflex to a great extent.  

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