Startle Reflex

Hi! My baby is just about three months old and it seems his startle reflex has gotten worse (if that’s possible) when we take him in the elevator or down the steps his whole body tensed up and he puts his hands up (picture attached for referance) a similar thing happens sometimes when we lay him on our bed or even put him on his play mat and it takes him a bit to adjust. We are also trying to transition him out of his swaddle and it’s proving near impossible his hands bat so much and he can’t seem to calm down not to mention this his swatting hands always knock the pacifier right out of his mouth. Would appreciate any advice!

Hi, I am definitely not an expert on reflexes but it should be starting to diminish between 2 and 4 months. Does he spend a lot of time in swings, bouncies, strollers, etc? One thing that can help is less time in them and more ‘natural’ movement that comes from how we move through space. You can also try setting him down on his belly for tummy time rather than on his back. Baby wearing is another great way to increase tolerance to movement. Hope some of those ideas help.

Hi Michal,

Although I’m not a pro when it comes to why some babies startle more easily than others, like on the elevator, as you mentioned. Maybe a PT or OT would have more insight?

But I can help on the sleep front! I do suggest you transition your little guy out of the swaddle and stick with the transition; I actually suggest families to do between 8-12 weeks, when possible! It’s really important for him to have the opportunity to move his little body, legs, and arms how he chooses, specifically when it comes to sleep, as that movement is a huge piece of learning to self-soothe. It can be a tougher transition for some babies, and may take time for him to adjust, but that’s totally normal! He WILL adjust. I’ve also seen some babies startle reflexes seem to go away more quickly when the swaddle is gone because, like I said, they’re getting more opportunities to practices move their body how they’d like to. Here’s a blog post I wrote all about transitioning out of the swaddle:

There’s a transitional sleep sack that may be helpful for him, that will still give him the ability to move but will help with some of the startling. It’s called the Zipadee-Zip:

Let me know if you have any more questions!

I’ll jump in here to give a little more insight to this reflex which is called the Moro Reflex-it occurs if baby feels sudden movement or feels like he/she is falling-which explains why you see this consistent on the elevator or down the stairs. It should disappear by 4 months, but until then it’s completely normal.

Giving your baby lots of floor time in all positions-especially tummy time is the best way for this sense to integrate