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Normal Reflexes and Development of an Infant

By Marie Bell ; Updated June 13, 2017

The infant period is generally defined as birth to 1 year of age. During this time, discernible physiologic changes occur in all organ systems. In addition, your infant develops the ability to respond to external stimulation. At birth, he has certain primitive reflexes that gradually disappear with time. As the infant grows older, his development is assessed in these major categories: gross motor, fine motor, language and social/cognitive development.

Infantile Reflexes

According to “Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Pediatrics,” your baby is born with several reflexes.

The sucking reflex occurs in response to the stimulation of a nipple or finger in the mouth. The rooting reflex occurs when the infant’s head turns to the side of a facial stimulus. The traction response occurs when the infant is pulled to a sitting position by the arms. At first, the head lags, actively flexes, then falls forward. The palmar grasp reflex occurs when a finger is placed in the infant’s hand. A similar grasp type response can be elicited at the toes. The Moro or startle reflex occurs when the infant is held on her back with the head supported. Suddenly allow the head to drop slightly. In response, her arms and fingers will spread and then flex back toward her body. Lastly, the tonic neck reflex occurs when the head is turned to one side, the arm and leg on that side will extend and the arm and leg on the opposite side will flex.

Gross Motor Milestones

According to "Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics," the gross motor milestones for an infant include:

As a newborn, the infant should be able to move his head from side to side. At 1 month, he should be able to lift the head slightly. At 2 months, he can hold his head still while sitting. At 3 months, he should have the ability to pull up to sit and bring his hands together at the midline of his body. At 6 months, he should sit without support and roll from the back to the stomach. By 1 year, he should be developing the ability to walk.

Fine Motor Milestones

The fine motor milestones, according to “Nelson’s Textbook of Pediatrics,” are grasping an object by 3 to 4 months, reaching for objects at 4 months, transferring objects between hands by 5 to 6 months, use of pincer grasp by 8 months and the ability to turn pages in a book by 1 year.

Language/Communication Milestones

The milestones for language development include smiling in response to voice or faces at 1 month, immature babbling at 6 months, response to the command “no” and other one-step commands at 7 to 10 months, saying “mama” or “dada” at 10 months, pointing to objects at 10 months and speaking a real word by 1 year.

Social/Cognitive Milestones

The social/cognitive milestones that should be observed in infants include:

Staring at objects and maintaining the stare once the object has disappeared at 2 months, staring at her hand at 4 months, uncovering a hidden toy by 8 months and self-centered play by 1 year.

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