A reflex is an involuntary or unlearned response to some type of stimulus. For example, when the cheek of a newborn child is stroked, she will turn toward the direction of the stimulation. This is the rooting reflex. There are many of these reflexes that are present at birth, most of which tend to disappear within the first year of life. While the purpose of such reflexes as rooting and sucking is fairly clear (getting a good jump on learning how to feed), the function of others is not fully understood. For example, the tonic neck reflex is where an infant forms fists with both hands and usually turns her head to the right. This may have something to do with a preference for one side of the body over the other. Pediatricians are interested in the presence or absence of reflexes primarily because they reflect the level of maturity of the central nervous system.
See also: BRAZELTON NEONATAL ASSESSMENT SCALE; INFANCY
Miller, Linda G., and Kay M. Albrecht. Innovations: The Comprehensive Infant Curriculum. Beltsville, MD: Gryphon House, 2000.
Tirosh, E. "Neonatal Neurobehavioural Assessment as Related to Growth in Infancy." Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology 18, no. 1 (2000):61-66.
"Your Baby's Amazing Reflexes" [web site]. Available from http://www.i5ive.com/article.cfm/developmental_psychology/46602; INTERNET.
Neil J. Salkind
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