Coping with Startle Reflex

By Ashley Andrew

May 11, 2020

Ashley is The Mama Coach in Simi Valley, CA and serves families in the greater Conejo Valley Area. She is a mama of 2, Registered Nurse working in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, Sleep Coach, Lactation Counselor & Prenatal Educator. She has a passion for helping families achieve their goals with qualified and compassionate support.

One of the many things no one told you when you became a new parent was there might be a time when you have done your bedtime routine, your beautiful babe is now relaxed and ready for bed. As you lay your sweet babe down…. BOOM….suddenly their arms flail out, they have a look of terror and they begin to cry. You will think to yourself “Wow, what just happened?” They look as if they were falling from a cliff. Well, let me introduce you to the Moro Reflex. First though, know that it is completely normal. It is present in term newborns and begins to disappear around 12 weeks and should be completely gone by 6 months of age.

What is the Moro Reflex?

There are lots of theories as to why infants have this reflex. It may be for them to cling to their mothers for safety or to respond to danger. Either way it is an instinctive reflex triggered by loud noises, intense light, sudden movements and the sensation of falling. You will see your baby extend and straighten their arms outward and their head might slightly go back. They typically have a scared look and may cry. After this initial phase, the arms and hands come into the center of their body before they go back to their sides.

Your healthcare professional will be checking for this reflex right after birth and during your first few well-baby visits. They may place your baby on a soft padded surface and let the head and shoulders drop back a few inches, but quickly they will support your baby again so not to worry, your baby is safe. If you have a very preterm baby there might be an absence of this reflex initially, not to worry as these babes are too young and have not developed the reflex yet. Your healthcare provider is assessing for the reflex because if a term infant does not have the reflex it may be from brain or spinal cord problems. If there is only one side that has the reflex, this can be due to either a broken collarbone or injury to the nerves that run from the neck to the shoulder. Sometimes this happens in birth and typically can be fixed by surgery. Please talk with your healthcare provider if you experience either one of these scenarios with your baby.

Moro Reflex and Sleep

Although a natural response, the Moro reflex can certainly disrupt sleep. Some babies are more sensitive and it can happen often throughout a night causing poor sleep. Newborns spend about half their time in active sleep. It is during this phase you will see eye fluttering, irregular and rapid breathing and their arms and legs can have lots of movement. Some twitches and jerks may set off the Moro reflex during sleep and awaken your baby.

Here are a few things you can do to help:

  • As you lower your babe down into the crib, keep them as close to your body as possible. Try to even keep them close once they are on the mattress for a few seconds. This typically makes babes feel secure enough not to startle.
  • Always support baby’s head and neck when moving or holding them
  • Safely swaddle your baby to help them feel
    secure and cozy
  • If the reflex is triggered (it will happen) calm your baby by gently moving their outstretched arms toward their body and hold them close

The Magic Sleepsuit

As your baby grows they will begin to want more movement and freedom while sleeping. They may even be totally breaking out of their swaddle, but can still struggle with wakings due to startling. A great solution is to introduce a swaddle transitioner. My absolute favorite is the Baby Merlin’s Magic Sleepsuit. That’s right…. it is MAGIC! I heard rave reviews when I was pregnant with my daughter and I was so excited when I received one at my shower. I introduced it at 3.5 months of age when we transitioned from her bassinet to her crib. These adorable sleep suits are designed to muffle the Moro reflex and all those other twitches and jerks babes experience during sleep. It allows them to be nice and cozy, but still have the freedom to move their arms and legs. It certainly was a game changer for our daughter and us as well! It is a win-win when everyone gets more sleep! Of course as always, place babe on their backs to sleep in a bare crib. Once babe begins to roll in the suit that is a sign that they are ready to transition out. Amazingly, our daughter used hers until 9 months of age! Yep, she chose to never roll or move around with it! She was quite content back sleeping until then! I even bought a second one as a backup on laundry days!

Want to win your own Magic Sleepsuit for free?
Head over to my Instagram @themamacoach.ashleyandrew and find my Giveaway post and enter to win!

If your baby is 3-12 months of age and you are struggling with sleep check out my upcoming Sleep Analysis and Webinar on Saturday May 23rd at 10am. Click here to register!

The Mama Coach Sleep Analysis and Webinar includes:
-Analysis of your child’s circadian rhythm (fill out this form here prior to the webinar)
-Assessment on your child’s feeding patterns, and health history
-A personalized 2 week sleep plan

I will send you the plan before the webinar and then we will spend 90 minutes helping you understand infant sleep, why they act the way they do, and walk you through, step by step, how to reach your sleep goals!

*Use promo code mamacoach5 to receive $5 off registration for the webinar

At The Mama Coach we also offer private sleep services from newborns to 4+ years of age. Click here to see all The Mama Coach sleep services.

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