Baby Talk: The Moro Reflex


So my wife and I took baby Jack on his first outing over Labor Day weekend: a barbeque pool party. It went surprisingly well (he slept 2 hours straight, even with people poking and fussing over him), freeing his parents up to chat with others. Here's what I noticed though, as this party was full of other new parents or parents-to-be: When we were all young and single, one of the most often dropped questions at such a party would have been, "So"¦ what do you do?" Now, curiously, we're all asking, "So"¦ when are you due?"

Other topics of conversation included whether to go with cloth or disposable diapers (anyone care to chime in on that debate?), and my recent favorite: the Moro Reflex, otherwise known as the "startle reflex." This is what newborns do with the arms when they hold them out as if they're falling. Baby Jack does it quite often and it always freaks me out a little.

The Moro Reflex was first described in the early 1900s by an Austrian pediatrician named Ernst Moro. He discovered that it's leftover behavior from when we used to be primates, clinging to our mother's fur as she went foraging for food. Obviously if you felt like you were falling, you'd hold on tighter, right? Moro believed this leftover reflex was the only unlearned fear in newborns.

As an adult, I can tell you that I still fear falling. Sometimes when I'm about to drop off into slumber, I'll wake myself up with a start, thinking I'm actually falling.