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  • Hirap Magsalita? Your Baby's Sucking Reflex Could Be the Culprit

    Your baby's rooting and sucking reflex help him survive and "find" food during the early days of his life.
    by Lei Dimarucut-Sison .
Hirap Magsalita? Your Baby's Sucking Reflex Could Be the Culprit
PHOTO BY @MarkoNOVKOV/iStock
  • When you’re a first-time parent, you can spend all day staring at your newborn. And you are amazed how perfectly made he is as you watch his every move.

    You see how he reacts to stimuli by grasping your finger or getting startled, sometimes even without any cause for it. Your newborn will also respond to when you touch his cheek by opening his mouth, which we often interpret as the baby feeling hungry. This is actually what is called the “rooting reflex,” an involuntary movement that is inherent to newborn babies. 

    The rooting or “root reflex” can be observed when you touch your baby’s cheek with your hand, or bring your breast near him. A healthy newborn will turn towards the direction of the touch, with his mouth open, as he tries to find the stimuli using his mouth. Through the rooting reflex, your baby can find food.

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    Complementing the root reflex is the sucking reflex. When the roof of your baby’s mouth — the palate — is touched, he will begin sucking or drinking intuitively, as he would your breast. This reflex goes hand-in-hand with the root reflex so that your baby can find food and eat that food, too — in this case, your breast milk, or milk from the bottle.

    Some parents become concerned when they feel that their baby isn’t sucking properly and thus is unable to get enough breast milk. The best way to check is by monitoring the number of diaper changes in a day. He should use three diapers on his third day of life, and five or more diapers on the fifth day of life. 

    When do the root and sucking reflex appear?

    Most healthy newborns will exhibit the rooting and sucking reflexes immediately although some babies have a stronger sense of reflexes. However, babies who were born prematurely may take time to develop these reflexes since these usually begin to develop around the 28th or 30th week in the mother’s womb. If this is the case, you can hand-express your milk, or guide your baby’s mouth to your nipple. In some cases, premature babies who have not yet developed their rooting reflexes may need to be fed using alternatives like a syringe or a tube with the help of medical staff. 

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    Around the fourth month of life, rooting will become more voluntary as your baby develops further. The sucking reflex will also disappear around this time.

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    When the baby reflexes become a problem in development

    According to Liane Norman, physiotherapist and co-owner of Pediatric Physio & Occupational Therapy and ABC Pediatric Therapies in Ottawa, “Primitive reflexes [which include the rooting and sucking reflexes] are important for babies’ development since they not only help develop the brain and nervous system, but they are important to help the baby work on strength and, later, voluntary movements.”

    However, these reflexes should disappear after a certain time or else they will hinder the development or progression of voluntary skills, or motor skills. If a baby retains the rooting reflex beyond the time it is expected, he can have difficulty pronouncing words and may suck his thumb beyond the toddler years. 

    “Babies need experiences and stimulation,” says Moira Dempsey, a pioneer in the study of retained reflexes and co-founder of Rhythmic Movement Training International.

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    What are the ways to ensure your baby does not retain the reflexes that need to disappear after a few months of life?

    • Give your baby tummy time.
    • Do not let him use bouncy chair for long period of time.
    • Have more skin-to-skin contact.
    • Be strict with screen time.
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