What Is The Stepping Reflex?
From the time your baby is born (and even in utero!) they will exhibit many different reflexes that serve different functions in their growing little bodies. Some reflexes are spontaneous movements that occur as a normal part of your baby’s daily activity. Other reflexes are responses to specific actions such as stroking the bottom of the foot or the corner of the mouth.
One of the more entertaining reflexes your newborn might demonstrate is the stepping reflex, also called the dancing or walking reflex. The stepping reflex is a precursor to walking that exists even in newborn babies. It will eventually disappear and give way to walking as your baby grows. Keep reading to learn more about the stepping reflex in babies.
Why do babies have the stepping reflex?
The stepping reflex in babies exists to help them get developmentally ready for taking their first steps in just a few short months. The stepping motions that occur as a result of this reflex begin to train the brain for the movements. Eventually, it should lead to your baby walking, dancing, and running, thus making it a critical reflex. The stepping reflex has been observed as early on as in the utero. It’s also theorized that the stepping reflex exists in newborns to help them crawl to their mother’s breast.
What is the trigger for the stepping reflex?
The stepping reflex is triggered in your newborn when they are held upright over a flat, solid surface such as a couch or the floor. Although they cannot stand or walk, their legs and feet will still perform step-like motions when the reflex is triggered. It may also be present when your newborn baby is placed on your abdomen or chest and must make their way to the breast for nourishment.
What is the stepping reflex and when does it first occur?
The stepping reflex is one of the first reflexes to occur and also one of the first to disappear. Babies in the utero have been shown to exhibit this reflex, and it should be present at your newborn’s first doctor’s appointment. The stepping reflex is a response to the external stimulation of your baby’s body and feet being held a certain way in order to trigger involuntary walking movements that will eventually give way to voluntary motions.
Why does the stepping reflex disappear?
The stepping reflex should begin to disappear around the age of 2 months. This process is also known as integration. The stepping reflex must disappear in order to give way to voluntary movements instead. Without this successful transition, your little one may struggle to walk and experience significant development delays. If you have a concern about your child’s stepping reflex, speak to your pediatrician at their next doctor’s visit.
What does the absence of the stepping reflex mean?
Like with most of the other newborn reflexes that your child's pediatrician will test for, a weak or absent stepping reflex could indicate an underlying problem with your child's central nervous system. Don’t panic if your child does not seem to exhibit the stepping reflex. It may not occur every time your child’s doctor tests for it. Additional testing can help reveal whether or not there are any underlying health conditions or serious issues.
At what age does the stepping reflex start to disappear?
The stepping reflex actually begins to disappear very early in your child's life, around the same time as the Moro (or startle) reflex. These reflexes should be gone by the time your baby reaches 2 months of age. At this time, your baby's central nervous system should begin to replace these involuntary movements with voluntary ones. When your child’s stepping motions re-emerge, they should be intentional and weight-bearing.
If your baby's stepping reflex fails to disappear (or integrate) it can lead to developmental delays. As with other infant reflexes, a failure to integrate could also be an indicator or a serious health concern such as cerebral palsy, neonatal abstinence syndrome, or a motor nerve injury.
What is the importance of the stepping reflex?
Unlike some newborn reflexes, the stepping reflex is an absolutely essential one. This key reflex begins to train your baby's brain and leg muscles for important gross motor skills such as crawling, standing, and walking. Parents can even practice the stepping reflex daily in order to promote the timely onset of these developmental milestones.
How do you assess stepping reflexes?
Your baby’s doctor should check your baby’s stepping reflex and various other newborn reflexes at the very first checkup after birth. The presence of these reflexes indicates normal growth and development, while their absence or weakness could point to a serious health concern. The stepping reflex is more likely to be present when your child is awake and alert. Keep in mind that in some healthy babies, the stepping reflex may not be present at birth and may emerge at closer to 6 weeks of age.
The stepping reflex is tested by triggering the involuntary stepping motions by holding the child securely in an upright position with their legs touching (or just above) a flat surface such as an exam table or the floor. Your baby should begin to cycle or churn their legs in a series of motions that closely resemble walking, although they are not yet old enough to walk or support their own body weight.
If you suspect that your child is experiencing an abnormal or absent reaction to any of the newborn reflexes including the stepping reflex, be sure to raise your concerns with their pediatrician. Early intervention is key to help prevent developmental delays and spot any underlying health conditions. Otherwise, enjoy this adorable and important reflex while it lasts! Your little one will be up and moving in no time at all.
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