"Shivering" — The Startle Reflex

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New babies sometimes make movements with their hands and feet that look like a shiver. It is not from being cold, though. It is actually a startle reflex that is normal in all babies. It is a reaction of her nervous system to something unexpected.

Remember where she came from. Inside mom's uterus those last few weeks she was constantly held very tightly. If she tried to move her arm it was stopped by the wall of the uterus. She could hear sounds, but they were muffled. It was always dark and warm and snuggly. Now she is out here, and when she moves her arm, it goes too far. The noises are really loud and the lights are bright. Even her own cries upset her. Things that us adults don't even notice are "too much" for her brand new nervous system.

She'll get used to being out in the big world, but it takes longer than most people realize. In about two months, the startle reflex goes away completely.

Thanks to Janelle Aby MD, Stanford School Of Medicine, Newborn Nursery, and Lucille Packard Children's Hospital for the use of occasional photographs.