Ashley Andrew, The Mama Coach- Simi Valley, CA

February 7, 2021

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Here are my top secrets to help you cope with the startle reflex in your baby!

So imagine you finally got your litte one to sleep in your arms. They have a full belly and you get really excited at the idea of maybe having a hot second to yourself. You gently go to lay them down in their bassinet and BOOM…..suddenly their arms flail out, they scream with a look of terror on their face as if they are falling down the biggest mountian. You are on the verge of tears as your hope for your first shower in days drifts away. Does this sound familiar at all? 

Well, let me tell you mama it’s completely normal and it’s called the startle reflex otherwise known as the Moro Reflex. It is present in term newborns and begins to disappear around 12 weeks of age and should be completely gone by 6 months of age. We want nothing more than our babes to sleep soundly and startling awake can often disrupt the sleeping process! That is to say there is good news… I am going to share my best secrets in how to cope with the startle reflex and help you keep your baby sleeping! 

What is the Startle Reflex?

First let’s understand why babes do this in the first place. There are lots of theories as to why infants have the startle reflex. Whether it’s their response to cling to their mothers for safety or to respond to danger. Either way it is an instinctive reflex triggered by loud noises, intense light, sudden movements and the sensation of falling. Likely, you will see your baby extend and straighten their arms outward and their head might slightly go back. They typically have a scared look and may cry. After this initial phase, the arms and hands come into the center of their body before they go back to their sides.


How the Startle Reflex is Checked

Most importantly, healthcare professionals will be checking for this reflex right after birth and during your first few well-baby visits. First, they may place your baby on a soft padded surface. Second, they will let the head and shoulders drop back a few inches, but quickly they will support your baby again so not to worry, your baby is safe. Very preterm babies might have an absence of this reflex initially, but not to worry as these babes are too young and have not developed the reflex yet. Assessing for the startle reflex is an important component of the exam because if a term infant does not have the reflex it may be from brain or spinal cord problems. Observing only one side that has the reflex, this can be due to either a broken collarbone or injury to the nerves that run from the neck to the shoulder. Sometimes this happens in birth and typically can be fixed by surgery. Please talk with your healthcare provider if you experience either one of these scenarios with your baby.

The Startle Reflex and Sleep

Although a natural response, the startle reflex can certainly disrupt sleep. Some babies are more sensitive and it can happen often throughout a night causing poor sleep. Newborns spend about half their time in active sleep. It is during this phase you will see eye fluttering, irregular and rapid breathing and their arms and legs can have lots of movement. Consequently, some of those twitches and jerks may set off the startle reflex during sleep and awaken your baby.

My Top Secrets to Cope with the Startle Reflex

Good news is there are a few strategies we can implement to help cope with the startle reflex.

  • As you lower your babe down into the crib, keep them as close to your body as possible. Try to even keep them close once they are on the mattress for a few seconds. This typically makes babes feel secure enough not to startle.
  • Always support baby’s head and neck when moving or holding them
  • Safely swaddle your baby to help them feel secure and cozy
  • If the reflex is triggered (it will happen) calm your baby by gently moving their outstretched arms toward their body and hold them close

Swaddles and Wearable Blankets to Help Calm the Startle Reflex

There are so many swaddles and wearable blankets on the market and it can be hard to choose one! I’m going to share with you 2 of my favorite options that I’ve seen work with my own babies and that of my clients!

Weighted Sack

First up is the Dreamland Baby Weighted Sack & Swaddle, that baby can safely wear. It’s designed to help baby relax, fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. The gentle weight is evenly distributed from shoulder to toe, naturally reducing stress and increasing relaxation through deep touch stimulation. These come in different sizes starting for babes 8lbs or more. The 0-6 month size comes with removable swaddle wings that help keep a young babe’s arms tucked in close. This is a great option to help reduce the startle reflex and help your baby feel secure.

Magic Sleepsuit

The second one I recommend (and what I loved with my daughter) is the Baby Merlin’s Magic Sleepsuit! That’s right…. it is MAGIC! I heard rave reviews when I was pregnant with my daughter and I was so excited when I received one at my shower. I introduced it at 3.5 months of age when we transitioned from her bassinet to her crib. These adorable sleep suits are designed to muffle the startle reflex and all those other twitches and jerks babes experience during sleep. In addition, itallows them to be nice and cozy, but still have the freedom to move their arms and legs. What a game changer this was for our daughter and us as well! A win-win when everyone gets more sleep! Of course as always, place babe on their backs to sleep in a bare crib. Once babe begins to roll in the suit that is a sign that they are ready to transition out. Amazingly, our daughter used hers until 9 months of age! Yep, she chose to never roll or move around with it! She was quite content back sleeping until then! I even bought a second one as a backup on laundry days!

I hope you found this helpful! Be sure to comment below with how you are coping with the startle reflex and don’t forget to repin to Pinterest!

My daughter in her Baby Merlin Magic Sleepsuit!

So if you want more in-depth sleep support with your baby, check out my one on one sleep packages where we go deep! We work together to help you find the right schedule for your baby and I help you reach your specific goals. If you want to learn more, check them out here or book a one on one call with me here.


PS….don’t forget to download your free Sleep Tips Guide! Get it here!

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