Chen was four weeks old and already seemed, to his parents, like a rambunctious boy! He was always “on the go.” He would wiggle when Mom would bring him to the breast to nurse. An arm might shoot out, a foot jerk, and his mouth would move quickly from side to side as Mom tried to get him to nurse. He was sure to squirm on Dad’s shoulder and bobble his head up and down as Dad did his burping duty. Lie him on his back to rest, and both arms would splay out in a startle; his feet would start pumping as if he were leading a baby aerobics class. Chen was always moving!
When Chen would get upset, he often did the oddest thing. His arms and legs would pump a moment, then all of a sudden he would turn his head toward the left and look like he was taking up sword fighting. He would extend his left arm and leg, and flex his right leg and arm. This sword fighting position would seem to calm him down. From this position Chen could watch his own hand move and practice his eye-hand coordination. He might even pull his hand to his mouth to comfort himself from this position.
The “sword-fighting” position is technically called the “Fencing Reflex.” It lasts in babies until they are 3-6 months old. Because the newborn’s neck muscles are still strengthening, and the back of the head is round, many babies will tend to tilt their head to the side when on their back. The majority of babies turn toward their right, which some suggest is caused by (or leads to) more right-handed than left-handed children. Most righted-handed mothers hold their baby in their left arm which allows Mom to use her right hand easier and encourages the baby to look up at her as he turns naturally toward the right.
No one would say that Chen started sword fighting position on purpose, but researchers are learning, daily, how newborn reflexes serve a purpose. When Chen’s parents watch him successfully use this reflex, they are reminded once again how remarkable newborns are — and, especially, how smart their own little ZORRO is!
© HUG Your Baby 2018