Plantar/Babinski Reflex: What You Need to Know
Babies are born with a variety of reflexes that help them adapt to their new environment outside of the womb. The plantar reflex is - otherwise known as the Babinski reflex - is one of the many reflexes. First documented by French neurologist Joseph Babinski in 1896, the plantar reflex is an automatic neurological response to stimulation of the bottom of your baby’s foot. Curious? Read on to learn more about the plantar reflex and how to test for it.
What is the plantar reflex in babies?
The plantar (or Babinski) reflex is an automatic neurological response to stimulation of the bottom of your baby’s foot. It’s present at birth and typically lasts until around the age of 24 months, at which point it should eventually disappear.
Some babies do not present a positive plantar reflex response at all. When the reflex is present, it may result in either the upward or downward flexing of the toes. The big toe should extend while the rest of the toes fan out. The plantar reflex may be present in one or both sides of the body, and when it only occurs in one foot it could be a sign of a neurological issue.
What does the plantar reflex indicate?
All of your baby’s reflexes play an important role in their growth and development. These reflexes are often used as indicators of proper health in the infant months and beyond. When your baby’s pediatrician tests their reflexes, they are looking for signs of any abnormality that may require further testing.
The plantar reflex has become a standard check for proper neurological functioning and motor control. While an absent plantar reflex is generally not cause for concern, a plantar reflex that lingers past the age of 2 years old could indicate a serious health problem.
Why is the plantar grasp reflex important?
The plantar reflex is important because it indicates the health and functioning of the central nervous system. The central nervous system includes the brain and spinal cord and is vital for your child's growth and development.
An abnormal response to a reflex test can help doctors identify and treat serious health issues such as tumors, birth defects, and other disorders. So the next time your child’s pediatrician gets out their reflex hammer or other instrument, rest assured they are looking for indicators of proper health and functioning through these very important tests.
How do you test the plantar reflex in newborns?
To test the plantar reflex in newborns, simply stroke the bottom of the foot gently with your finger or a blunt instrument. Sharp objects (such as your fingernail) should never be used to perform the check. Typically, your doctor will use a tongue depressor and move slowly from the heel of the foot upwards to the toes, ending at the big toe. You should see your child’s pediatrician check for this reflex shortly after birth, and again at some of your baby’s well visits.
The plantar reflex should always be tested on both sides of the body to check for an abnormal response. If only one limb responds properly, this is considered an abnormal response.
What is an infant's normal response to the plantar reflex?
A healthy response to plantar reflex test looks like the extension of the big toe up towards the top of the foot as well as the fanning out of the other toes. This is also known as a positive response, which is perfectly normal until the age of 2. If there is no reflex, the response is considered neutral. After the age of 2, your child’s toes should begin to curl down instead.
If your baby exhibits a weak response, absent response, or response in only one side of the body before the age of 2, it could indicate a health issue and will likely result in follow-up tests.
Should plantar reflex be positive or negative?
When your baby is first born, it’s normal for the plantar reflex response to be present, which is also known as a positive response. However, this response should disappear by the age of 2.
When the plantar reflex is present after the age of 2, it should always be investigated. A positive response at this point could indicate a central nervous system disorder. Keep in mind that false positives and false negatives are fairly common, and your doctor should order further testing if there is any cause for concern.
What can cause an abnormal plantar reflex?
If your baby exhibits an abnormal reflex, your doctor may recommend further screening. While an abnormal plantar reflex is usually no cause for alarm, it should call for additional testing.
Possible causes for an abnormal plantar reflex (or positive response after the age of 2) include brain tumors, meningitis, spinal cord injury, spinal cord tumors, spinal cord defects, stroke, ALS, MS, and other neurodegenerative disorders.
When does plantar reflex disappear?
Like most newborn reflexes, the plantar reflex begins to gradually fade away and eventually disappear as your baby grows. It may begin to disappear as early as 12 months and should be entirely absent by the age of 2. Some babies may never exhibit a positive plantar reflex at all.
While the plantar reflex sticks around longer than most other newborn reflexes, it should eventually disappear. After age 2, your child’s toes should curl downward when the foot is stroked. A persistent positive Babinski response after the age of 2 may be indicative of either a neurological condition or nervous system disorder, such as a tumor or spinal cord injury.
The presence (or absence) of healthy reflexes often helps parents and doctors identify normal neurological activity. In the case of the plantar reflex, a positive response that lingers after the age of 2 could be caused by a serious health issue and calls for further testing.
If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s reflexes including the plantar / Babinski reflex, be sure to speak to your family doctor or pediatrician. As a parent, you’ll do anything to support your baby’s development. Helping them get plenty of sleep is one of the best ways to support development. Our bodies, no matter how big or small, need sleep to support healthy brain function and maintain physical health. Dreamland’s weighted sleep aid products can help your baby fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Choose from a weighted swaddle, sleep sack, or blanket to aid with your baby’s sleep. All of our products feature CoverCalm Technology that evenly distributes weight from your baby’s shoulders to toes to naturally reduce stress and give your baby the feeling of security and comfort. The feeling resembles a hug - without the need to hold your baby while they sleep.
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