Amongst the reflexes unique to newborns, four stand out as important to the newborn photographer:
- The Rooting Reflex
- The Palmar Grasp
- The Moro Reflex
- The Gallant Reflex
The rooting reflex is present at birth and is meant to help the newborn to find their way towards the nipple for feeding time. The metabolic needs of a newborn are heightened as they are growing at an astonishingly rapid rate during this part of the life cycle, requiring them to feed, on average, at least once every 3 hours, if not sooner. Newborns should be considered to be “on demand” with their feeding needs and, whenever possible, should always be sent back to the mother or parent for a feed the first time this reflex is witnessed in session. It can be difficult to measure how much a newborn has fed when breastfeeding, and lazy feeding or lack of supply can contribute to the need to feed more frequently than normal for the newborn. Additionally, most newborn studios run with a heated environment which can lead to dehydration. Just like you or I, the newborn will want to drink more frequently in warm environments and should be encouraged to do so to avoid any risk of dehydration. Occasionally, you will come upon a newborn who is happy to sleep through beyond the recommended 3 hour mark. It is important that babies feed at least once every 3 hours as lack of desire to eat, laziness and lack of consumption can all be indications of jaundice, a condition that, when left untreated, can lead to brain injury or worse. Babies who appear with a yellow tinge in their skin, yellow in the whites of the eyes and a general dozy appearance with lazy breastfeeding behaviours, may be experiencing various levels of jaundice and should be encouraged to feed as per doctor’s recommendations. Jaundiced babies will often also have numbed down reflexes. Jaundice is common and can even be normal in the very early stages after birth. However, left to progress, it can become dangerous for the baby and lead to lack of supply and breastfeeding issues for the mother.
The palmar grasp reflex occurs when stimulus is applied to the baby’s palm, causing them to ball the hand into a fist with thumb tucked in centrally. This reflex can result in difficult to manage hands and potentially pinched or scratched cheeks should the newborn get hold of their face. Try to avoid allowing their hands to grasp their face when awake by using a gentle swaddle to keep arms in place. Parents often employ the use of newborn mitts or socks to cover their hands and sharp nails to avoid such injuries.
The moro reflex is also commonly known as the startle reflex and is often the reflex of which most photographers are aware. This reflex results in rapid “throwing out” of the arms and legs with a slight jerking back of the head into an extended position followed by the retrieval of the limbs back into a flexed or fetal position. The reflex can be dangerous when newborns are posed unswaddled within props with hard edges. The limbs can hit the edges of these props as baby elicits the startle reflex causing bruising, scratching or injury. Avoid common stimuli such as sudden changes in temperature, loud noises, gusts of air or other sudden stimuli.
The fourth reflex that is of importance to photographers is the gallant reflex. This reflex occurs when the newborn is face down, held midair and is stroked along one or the other side of their spine. The newborn will automatically curve towards the stimulus in this case. This reflex is important as photographers often pose babies along the arm of a parent, face down, held mid air. Should a piece of hair, the collar of a shirt or some other stimulus brush along the side of the newborn’s spine, they will sway towards the stimulus leaving the chance that they may fall off the balancing arm.