Newborns scrunch when they’re picked up, a cute reflex that has become popular on social media. Generally, it is harmless and transient.
It may be a comforting gesture for newborns, a way to feel safe and secure when they are exposed to new stimuli outside the womb. They are a bit overwhelmed by the world, including noises and smells.
Newborns can often look scrunched up when they’re waking or sleeping, or when they’re being picked up. They may also tense their legs or arms when being swaddled, and they might even fold into a little “L” shape when they’re in their car seat. This is all perfectly normal, known as the newborn scrunch reflex, or moro reflex, and it’s completely harmless.
The newborn scrunch is a protective instinct that helps babies adjust to life outside the uterus. They’ve been cramped up in the fetal position for months, so the open space of the world can be overwhelming. The curled-up posture can minimize stimulation as well as help stabilize and regulate temperature during this short adjustment period.
In addition, the scrunched-up position can be a part of the rooting reflex, which is an instinctive movement infants use to locate their mother or bottle when they’re ready to start feeding. This is a way for them to communicate that they’re hungry, and it’s also an important step in their overall motor development.
Newborns can also appear to be in a scrunched-up position because they’re unable to fully extend their arms and legs, as their muscles and joints need to relax into place. This can make it seem like their limbs are stiff or immobile, but as they get older, their limbs will straighten out again. It’s a natural progression for them as they grow up and learn to use their limbs more independently. If a baby’s limbs don’t begin to straighten, it’s likely a sign that there is an issue with their development and they should be seen by a pediatrician.
Newborn babies often fold their arms and legs tightly into themselves when they are being picked up, a reflex that is called the newborn scrunch. It is a normal protective response that helps infants feel safe as they transition to life outside of the womb.
The scrunch can be disturbing to parents who are eager to cuddle their tiny new additions, but it is harmless. It is a sign that your baby is healthy and adjusted to life outside the uterus.
Within the first hours of life, most infants will begin to relax out of their scrunched-up position and unfurl their limbs. By the time they are 3 days old, most will have lost the scrunch completely and can extend their limbs fully.
The newborn scrunch may last for a while longer for infants who have been born via cesarean section. They may take longer to transition out of their fetal positions due to the different muscles and joints that they must stretch out to a newborn posture.
Whether or not your baby retains their froggy-like shape is not important, but it is essential to keep in mind that this is a temporary reflex. The most important thing is that your baby is otherwise healthy and has a good transition to life outside the womb. This includes a pink color to the skin and normal movement and respiration. Your pediatrician will assess these vital signs at the hospital and during your baby’s regularly scheduled visits. For this reason, it is not necessary or appropriate for you to try to correct or encourage the newborn scrunch. It is one of several natural and normal protective reflexes that all healthy babies have.
Recognizing the Newborn Scrunch in Action
Newborn babies often scrunch up their legs and arms when they’re lifted out of a car seat or are resting on their belly during tummy time. This adorable little movement is a remnant from their time in the womb and something they’ll grow out of eventually.
As their muscles and nervous systems adjust to life outside the uterus, newborns typically assume this curled-up position as a way of self-soothing and feeling secure. The fetal position is also a way for them to minimize stimulation as they transition from the womb’s limited space to an open environment filled with sights, sounds, textures, and temperatures that can be overwhelming.
The fetal position can also help to conserve body heat and regulate temperature as infants are forced to adapt from the womb’s more stable climate to one that is subject to frequent changes. In addition, the fetal position can help minimize the loss of fluids during the transition from water to air-breathing.
For parents, seeing their newborns curl up into the fetal position can be a heartwarming and nostalgic reminder of their own birth experience. In most cases, the newborn scrunch only lasts a few hours or days, and the majority of newborns will begin to stretch out their legs and arms after this period ends.
Despite its harmlessness, the newborn scrunch can be difficult for caregivers to deal with when attempting to put their babies to sleep. During this time, it’s important to ensure that the crib is free of any items such as toys or pillows that could suffocate a baby. It’s also best to avoid rocking or cradling babies in a way that can make them feel tense and encourage this reflexive posture.
Creating a Supportive Environment
The newborn scrunch is a normal protective reflex that helps infants feel safe as they adjust to life outside the womb. It’s also a cute way for newborns to look squishy and adorable when they are being held by their parents or caregivers. This curled posture with limbs pulled tightly against the body typically lasts for about six months and goes away as babies grow older and get used to the world beyond their cozy little uterus.
The scrunch usually starts in the first hours or days after birth. It can happen while babies are asleep, awake, or just resting on their tummies. During this time, it’s perfectly safe for newborns to remain in the scrunched-up position as long as they don’t show signs of discomfort like crying or breathing difficulty.
Newborns can also look scrunched up when they are being fed or have bowel movements. This is often caused by a hard stool and is a normal part of the digestive process.
Morehouse Healthcare pediatrician Nicola Chin says the newborn scrunch can also affect how babies look after birth. She adds that infants born by cesarean section or in breech positions may have skull bones that appear to be long, stretched out, or even pointed. However, the moldable quality of a newborn’s skull bones will improve over time as they continue to grow and develop.
Although it can be a bit frustrating for parents, the newborn scrunch is not something to worry about. It’s a completely natural and temporary protective reflex that can make infants look extra-adorable during this short adjustment period.
Encouraging Tummy Time
A baby’s tummy time provides them with the opportunity to use and strengthen their neck and shoulder muscles. This enables them to hold their heads up, roll over, and eventually crawl as they learn to interact with their surroundings from a new perspective.
This is why it’s so important to encourage tummy time from the very beginning. However, if you find that your baby doesn’t like to be on their belly, don’t give up! Instead, try to engage them with toys that are colorful and/or noisy. You could even sing to them or read them a story. Keeping them engaged can help to distract them from their dislike for the position.
If they still seem unhappy, try placing them on a low, safe surface, like a mat or clean floor. This way, they can’t roll off or suffocate. Having family members or friends nearby to distract them can also be helpful, particularly older siblings who love to play with them. Adding some visual stimulation, such as a mirror or black-and-white toys, can also stimulate them and keep them interested for a few minutes at a time.
In addition, you can also gently rock them back and forth to make tummy time more enjoyable for them. Or you can try laying them down across your knees, which is a position that they may enjoy because it offers them the comfort of being close to their parents.
If your newborn is not enjoying tummy time or appears to be developing torticollis, it’s a good idea to consult your pediatrician for advice. They will likely recommend some exercises to strengthen the neck and shoulder muscles. Practicing these exercises can help to correct any muscle imbalances and prevent future problems.