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This Newborn Reflex Serves as an Essential Indicator of Your Baby's Development
PHOTO BY @LeManna/iStock
  • If you have a newborn baby, it is vital that you carefully observe his movements, no matter how tiny these are. A lot can be known about your child’s state of health just by how he behaves, even at only a few days or weeks old.

    One of the most critical reflexes (involuntary movement) your baby is born with is the tonic neck reflex. You know he has it if he assumes the “fencing position” when you lay him down on the crib on his back: his head will turn to one side, one arm will be outstretched, while the other will be flexed. The stance will resemble that of a professional fencer’s. 

    You will begin to observe the tonic neck reflex between birth and 2 to 3 months old, or around the time your baby can competently roll over from lying on his back. 

    The tonic neck reflex is expected to disappear when the baby turns 6 months old, onwards.

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    Why the tonic neck reflex is important

    Like the other newborn reflexes (grasp, rooting and suck, startle), the tonic neck reflex is said to prepare baby’s development — this one, particularly, for voluntary reaching later in life.

    This reflex is also thought to prevent the baby from rolling over until he is prepared to do so.

    Aside from these, the presence or absence of the tonic neck reflex is an indicator of your child’s health — in particular, his nervous system development. If you observe that your child does not exhibit this reflex, bring it up with your doctor on the next check-up. 


    On the other hand, if your baby continues to assume the fencing position even beyond 6 or 7 months of age, it could signal a neurological problem, as is the case with children suffering from cerebral palsy. Your baby’s pediatrician will be in a position to advise you of the next steps to accurately diagnose any developmental problems.

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