Not a baby person? So what! In actuality, this has nothing to do with whether a woman will make a good mother or not. We at BabyGaga are eager to point out the fact that expectant women as well as new moms come equipped with some amazing instincts that are meant to help them figure out this whole parenting thing.
The same goes for infants as they are born with up to 75 incredible reflexes or innate behaviors hardwired directly into their little beings. Some of these will vanish abruptly by the age of three to six months while others may be gradually replaced by more intentional responses.
What we’re trying impress upon expectant and new mothers alike is that they should take a deep breath, relax and trust themselves - they have what it takes to get through this. It may not always be easy or as clear cut as they would hope but remember this - a lot of these maternal instincts will get stronger and become more recognizable as a mother gains some experience and gets to know her baby.
In the meantime, a new mom shouldn’t shy away from asking for help, talking to healthcare providers, engaging in discussions with other parents and taking on a trial and error approach when first dealing with her baby. And while she’s at it, have a read through of 15 amazing instincts that develop in a new mom and baby.
15 Survival Instinct (Baby)
A newborn baby may not understand the concept of eating in order to survive but luckily this survival instinct is pre-programmed into the human design in the form of mouthing reflexes. This cluster of reflexes is the unconscious and automatic way an infant will seek out food - a breast or bottle to latch onto and thus drain. Focussed on the human will to survive, the mouthing reflexes include:
- Opening their mouths with minimal provocation. Touch them gently on the cheek or lips and a baby will instinctively turn their face and open mouth toward the food source.
- Rooting for food when any area around their mouth is touched. This reflex fades by the time a baby turns four months.
- Sucking occurs automatically when the roof of a baby's mouth is stimulated. This reflex is not fully formed in a fetus until the 36 week mark which is why some preemies have an under-developed suck.
- Swallowing is another automatic and innate response that occurs without any thought.
Some experts believe mouthing reflexes also encourage a baby’s developing immune system by increasing both antibody and mucus production.
14 Maternal Second Sight (Mother)
Call it mother’s intuition, a gut instinct or ESP - there’s obviously some kernel of truth to the age old saying that a mother has eyes at the back of her head. Sometimes a mom just knows when there’s something wrong or even just slightly off with her child. Often there’s no logic to it and while some may remain skeptical, there are many instances where this maternal second sight has saved lives.
Deep within the human brain, there is an unconscious self-protective mechanism that will help individuals navigate through life relatively unscathed. That is as long as it is cultivated, listened to and trusted. And while motherhood doesn’t necessarily heighten this level of human intuition, it does provide her with a vital reason to listen to it and trust it.
This sixth sense that many mothers report feeling once they have children can actually benefit the medical community. However in this day and age of documentation and definitive proof, it’s easy to understand why many women will dismiss these unexplained, inner feelings where their children’s welfare is concerned.
13 Moro Reflex (Baby)
Commonly referred to as the startle reflex, the Moro reflex occurs when a baby is startled by a loud noise, sudden movement or feels as if they are falling backwards. They automatically react by throwing their head back, and arms and legs forward (as if to grab onto something) while crying.
Most obvious during the first month of life, the Moro reflex generally fades by the time an infant reaches two or three months of age. It is believed that this particular reflex helps to integrate a baby’s rapidly developing central nervous system. It is also thought that this instinctual behavior first developed in order to help babies cling to their mothers while being carried around, not unlike baby monkeys.
For parents who are urged to place newborns on their backs for sleep, the Moro reflex can easily become the bane of their existence. This is because a baby tends to startle much easier when on their back opposed to on their stomach.
12 Nurturing and Protective Instincts (Mother)
Know any “tiger moms” or self-proclaimed “mama bears” out there? Chances are these women have their nurturing and protective instincts ramped up. Generally, all mothers (both human and animal) will develop these instincts once they have children. Faced with a normally scary situation, these inborn tendencies will bring out the protective claws of a mother whenever her children are involved.
Many experts believe the protective instinct is hormone-related and involves a peptide in the brain that is released following childbirth. That said, this instinct does not dismiss the hard work and phenomenal amount of energy required in caring for a child from infancy into adulthood.
Becoming a mother typically brings out the nurturing side of a woman as well. She will want to support and encourage her child throughout their life and will feel rewarded when they thrive. This nurturing instinct plays a major part in a baby’s development as it increases their ability to learn and remember.
11 Stepping Reflex (Baby)
Here’s a neat party trick - hold a newborn upright with their feet dangling to brush against a somewhat firm surface and they will pump their little legs as if walking on air. While they definitely cannot yet support their own body weight and have no clue that walking upright is in their future, their body somehow knows it’s coming and is preparing for it.
Sometimes called the dancing or walking reflex, there is some contention about what the purpose of this instinctual behavior may be. While many experts believe it simply prepares a baby for the future act of walking - by creating the movements for muscle memory to take hold - others feel this is not the answer. And that its true function is a mystery to which only ancient ancestors hold the key.
Whatever the case may be, the stepping reflex generally disappears by the time a baby reaches the ripe old age of four months.
10 Cry Translation (Mother)
Just as deeply connected individuals often establish an unspoken language between each other, so do mother and baby. While not automatic, this instinct takes a bit of time to develop and will occur once a parent becomes more experienced and gets to know their baby better.
On par with learning a foreign language, time and focus will allow a mother to eventually make sense of her baby’s cues. A glassy stare, a gentle tug at their ears, a wrinkled forehead, some surreptitious eye-rubbing - these are all ways a baby may communicate with their parents. And the sooner a parent learns what each behavior signifies and responds accordingly, the safer and more secure a baby will feel.
At the same time, it’s important not to stress or attempt to rush the process. It will eventually reveal itself despite the fact that it may take several months. Until that time, a new mom can continue to follow a checklist when baby cries in order to comfort them the best way she can.
9 Babinski Sign (Baby)
Back in our caveman days, infants relied upon their feet and toes to help grasp onto objects - such as their mother’s hairy back or even a tree limb. This is where the Babinski sign (sometimes referred to as the Babinski reflex) came in handy - although thanks to the evolutionary process it’s really no longer much use to any of us. Yet for some mysterious reason, it is still kicking around in the human gene pool.
When the sole of a baby’s foot is stroked somewhat firmly, chances are their big toe will bend back toward the top of the foot while the other toes fan out. The theory behind this reflex is that the fanned toes would help establish a better foot-hold by helping to catch onto the mother’s hair. This particular reflex generally disappears by the time a baby turns two.
8 Bonding Instinct (Mother)
The term “bonding” is often bandied about soon after a baby is born but what many don’t realize is that this word actually refers to a primitive instinct that occurs due to both physical and emotional factors. This deep connection formed between mother and child (even non-blood-related individuals) is an important process that works toward the well-being of both mother and baby. Bonding affects all areas of the human body including the heart, brain, nerves and even hormone levels. It plays a major role in boosting immunity as well as enhancing a baby’s learning ability.
The bonding process is a must when it comes to mother and child so if it doesn’t seem to be happening the way it should, it’s imperative that help is sought. Fortunately, there are many ways to nudge it along as well as copious support systems in place for new moms. The best ways to encourage mother and baby bonding include:
- By touch - especially skin-to-skin contact.
- Being physically close to baby at all times, even at night.
- Listening to a baby and the sounds they make.
- Responding to a baby's needs sooner rather than later.
- By a mother not neglecting her own needs.
7 Righting Reflex (Baby)
This particular reflex is again tied to the human instinct to survive at all costs. Despite being hindered by their low range of movement, an infant will still do what they can in order to ensure their airways are clear. Place a baby on their tummy and they will most likely turn their head to the side to catch their breath. Gently place a light-weight blanket over top of them and they will probably twist and flail their arms in order to get their face free of constriction. Most newborns even come equipped with the natural ability to float to water’s surface, face up.
That said, these reflexes are all extremely short-lived as well as inconsistent. This knowledge along with the fact that newborns have extremely limited mobility and movement mean they are highly susceptible to suffocation hazards. And it is up to adults to remain hyper vigilant of any and all dangers that may pose potential threats to a helpless infant in their care.
6 Maternal Love (Mother)
Generalized perceptions have it that the minute a baby is conceived and/or born, maternal love is an automatic response that immediately kickstarts into action. But like any true feeling of love, it can be a gradual and even painstaking process. This “love at first sight” nonsense happens to be a very misleading and even harmful concept - especially where parenthood is concerned!
Experts believe that the maternal love instinct culminates by the time a baby reaches their third birthday. After that point, feelings of love still exist but are no longer purely instinctual. The reason behind this phenomenon is so the powerful maternal love instinct can reset itself for any subsequent children that may be born.
While a mother’s love for her children may start out as an innate instinct, it will only deepen and strengthen over time into a lifelong and multi-layered bond that is virtually unbreakable.
5 Tonic Neck Reflex (Baby)
Amuse friends and family with this particular reflex. Simply turn a baby’s head to one side and parents will notice that their arm on the same side will stretch out while their opposite arm will bend at the elbow. This is sometimes called the fencing posture because the infant will appear to be “en garde”.
This primitive reflex actually begins in the womb and has been identified in fetuses as young as 18 weeks. It is thought to help with muscle tone development and is also considered to be an asset in terms of the birthing process. This one doesn’t last long - it’s typically gone by the time an infant is three months old. And parents should not be overly concerned if they don’t notice the tonic neck reflex in their babies. It is usually subtle and if a baby is upset or crying, it’s virtually unnoticeable whatsoever.
4 Breastfeeding Instinct (Mother and Baby)
While breastfeeding a baby is rarely the simple and pain-free process it is sometimes made out to be, both a woman’s body as well as a baby possess the instincts required to make a go of it on their own. That said, receiving guidance and support in the beginning will help any mom and baby start out on the best course possible without suffering through the effects of trial and error.
Most mothers who carry a baby to term will be able to provide their newly born infants with the nutrient-packed substance colostrum in the beginning. About three or four days after giving birth, a mother’s breasts will produce milk in order to fulfil the rest of baby’s nutritional needs. Not only is the milk production an automatic process, but a woman’s breasts also know when a baby needs to feed. And a baby knows to root toward the food source as well as suck (as long as they aren’t premature) - all without being shown or taught.
In most cases, time and experience still play a major role in establishing a comfortable and effective latch.
3 Spinal Galant Reflex (Baby)
Just as a laboring woman’s body knows how best to get that baby out, so does a soon-to-be born infant rely on similar instincts. The spinal galant reflex, typically activated in utero at the 18 week mark, is thought to help with baby being an active participant in their very own birthing process.
Want to see this reflex in action - simply stroke a baby on one side of their spine and they will automatically flex toward the stimulated area as well as raise the same side hip. Stroking both sides simultaneously sometimes results in urination.
While typically gone by the time a baby turns one, the interesting thing behind this reflex is that many child development experts believe there is a direct correlation between it and ADHD as well as bed-wetting issues in older children. The thought is that some kids end up retaining this reflex and when their back is stimulated by clothing or a chair, they end up squirming, fidgeting and losing focus on their task at hand. At night, the feel of a bed sheet rubbing on their back may cause them to urinate involuntarily.
2 Nesting Instinct (Mother)
Typically, the nesting instinct takes hold during pregnancy and sometimes even continues into a baby’s infancy. This powerful instinct is nature’s way of preparing parents for their new arrival. While it does have a biological explanation (adrenaline), there is also an emotional aspect as many new fathers and even non-blood related individuals feel its affects when a new baby is about to enter the picture.
The urge to clean and tidy and basically prepare the living space a baby will enter is nature’s way of setting baby up with the perfect environment in order to live, grow and thrive. Usually striking before life becomes overly hectic, parents-to-be are often gifted with random boosts of energy which they use to set up their nest. Some believe that once the nesting instinct kicks in, it signifies the onset of labor but time and again this has proven to be a wive's tale.
1 Grasping Reflex (Baby)
Another reflex that begins developing in a baby before they are even born is the grasping reflex. It never fails, a parent places their own comparatively gigantic finger in their newborn’s teeny tiny palm and the baby will grip on for dear life. Sure - their strength seems amazingly powerful but what a parent needs to keep in mind is that this grasp is extremely unpredictable. A baby may release their grip suddenly and without any warning which is why it cannot be relied upon.
Forming in utero usually by the 16 week mark, the grasping reflex is strongest during the first two months of life and typically fades by the age of six months. Most experts believe the function of this reflex is to prepare an infant’s hand muscle development so they may soon begin to voluntarily and intentionally grasp objects in the months to come.