When you’re talking about your baby’s growth, you probably don’t expect the word “parachute” to be part of the conversation.
That said, the parachute reflex is something you should know about. Learning about your baby’s reflexes helps you understand how their neurological system develops.
When a baby senses that they’re about to fall, their arms reflexively extend to break the fall — just the way you stick out your arms when you trip and anticipate a fall. (Not that you ever do that, of course.)
Your baby will do this before they’ve taken their first step or even experienced a true fall and learned how to cushion it.
The name makes sense: Parachutes help make a fall safer. Reflexes are an automatic muscle reaction in response to stimulation, and the parachute reflex will help keep baby from getting seriously hurt.
The parachute reflex typically develops when your baby is between 5 and 9 months old.
You may want to ask your pediatrician when they’ll start looking for this reflex in your baby and how they test for it. When they feel it’s age appropriate for your baby, they may demonstrate the test.
One test for the parachute reflex is as follows:
- Hold your baby upright.
- Quickly but gently rotate baby’s body to face forward and downward as if they were falling.
- Your baby will extend their arms forward, often with their fingers spread, as if they were trying to cushion or break the fall.
While some reflexes go away as your baby grows up, this one is maintained throughout life — and for good reason!
You’ll notice your baby’s primitive reflexes, also known as newborn or infant reflexes, right away.
Remember when your newborn’s little fingers grasped your thumb? Along with being an unforgettably heartwarming and bonding moment, it was also a reflex.
These reflexes are specific muscle responses triggered by certain movements or sensations. They support your baby’s ability to survive and thrive.
While the parachute reflex doesn’t show up until your baby is a few months old, other common reflexes are in place earlier. These include:
The rooting reflex helps your baby find a breast or bottle for feeding. If you stroke the corner of your baby’s mouth, they’ll open it, turn their head, and follow the direction of the stroking.
This reflex typically lasts until your baby is about 4 months old.
Touch the roof of your baby’s mouth and they’ll start to suck. The sucking reflex typically lasts until your little one is about 4 months old. At this time, it becomes voluntary instead of reflexive.
When you stroke your baby’s palm, they’ll close their fingers (grasp). Typically, your baby’s grasp reflex will last until they’re 5 to 6 months old.
Often referred to as the Moro reflex, the startle reflex is well named. It typically happens when your baby is surprised by an unexpected sound or movement.
When startled like this, expect your baby to:
- throw back their head
- extend their legs and arms out
- pull their legs and arms back in
This reflex lasts until baby is about 2 months old.
If you hold your little one upright with their feet touching a solid surface, they’ll appear to take steps — long before the age of walking. Sometimes, the stepping reflex is referred to as the walking or dancing reflex because of these movements.
This reflex typically lasts until your baby is about 2 months old.
The presence and strength of infant reflexes can be an important indication of the development and function of your baby’s nervous system. Chat with your pediatrician about your baby’s reflexes.
According to The Encyclopedia of Child and Adolescent Development, testing primitive reflexes is a simple but predictive method of assessing an infant’s central nervous system development, function, and integrity.
If your baby doesn’t exhibit these reflexes or some of them don’t disappear as expected, it could mean your little one needs further examination. (Again, though, the parachute reflex doesn’t ever disappear.)
Learning about your baby’s reflexes — like the parachute reflex — and discussing them with your pediatrician may help you understand the development of your baby’s neurological system.
They can also be the source of great fun and interaction. You might want to:
- Stroke your baby’s palm with your pinky finger and feel their tiny fingers grab it — you’ll melt every time.
- Consider making a video of your baby’s walking reflex and set it to music; you’ll have a lasting memory of your infant “dancing.”
Enjoy these reflexes while you can. As your baby grows out of them, it indicates their development and growth — which means they’re one step closer to becoming a toddler.