Keeping Baby Aware

"Landau's reflex" is an instinctive reaction in babies from about three months of age to one year, wherein an infant, held in a face down position, will lift their head and fully extend their legs. It is considered a primitive reflex; while it is useful to keep a baby from smothering when laid face-down on a baby blanket, it disappears once the child has enough muscle control to no longer need it.

Most parents will witness this reflex while lowering their infant onto or picking them up from a baby blanket, where they may practice early crawling skills. It helps keep the baby balanced at both ends and also keeps them alert and aware of their surroundings. Without Landau's reflex, a baby placed on a baby blanket would only be able to turn their head side to side, meaning that same baby blanket would occupy most of their field of vision and leave them unaware of things happening above their level.

When Reflex Becomes Concern

Landau's reflex should disappear around one year of age. By this time the baby should be in the beginning stages of learning to walk, if not able to walk already. However, if this reflex, as well as other infantile reflexes such as Moro, palmar grasp, and asymmetrical tonic neck reflex still exist in the baby's physical vocabulary and are frequently used, there may be cause for concern.

Observe the behavior of your baby when you move them to and from a baby blanket on the floor. Landau's reflex tends to happen as soon as the baby is removed from your body, within view of the baby blanket. The reflex is noticeable because of your physical contact with the baby: as you lift them from the baby blanket, their body might stiffen somewhat, the feet go out, and they attempt to lift their chin in order to look around. If Landau's reflex is present past the one-year birthday, it may be a sign of developmental delay.

Testing Baby's Reflexes

While your pediatrician always checks your baby's apparent developmental state at appointments, you can test your baby's reflexes at home with a series of easy movement challenges. For example, you can check your baby's grasping skills and reflexes by challenging them to pick up toys. For a baby around six months of age, this informal developmental test can be combined with sitting practice.

Prop your baby up on a baby blanket, a safe distance away from any furniture with sharp edges or hard flooring materials. You can observe both Landau's reflex and the Moro, or "startle", reflex, if they're still used, while moving the baby onto the baby blanket (and again later when moving them away). On the baby blanket before them, place a selection of toys of various sizes and textures, such as blocks, soft plush balls, and rattles.

Watch to see how they grasp the toys. Cupping a palm over a toy and "raking" it towards themselves is the palmar grasp technique, usually used by infants under six months; attempting to pick up the toy between forefinger and thumb is called the pincer grasp, and is usually developed by babies older than four months. If you notice them having difficulty with a toy - such as not being able to visually 'follow' a ball as it rolls, or trying to pick up a large toy with a pincer grasp - you should mention these tendencies to your pediatrician at the next visit, but don't assume they indicate a serious issue with your child. Your pediatrician can tell you what's developmentally appropriate and what isn't.

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