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Neurological Behavior of a Newborn

Neurological function is often assessed within the first few moments of life for newborns.

Accuracy isn’t always the best initially because newborns aren’t very alert. Plus minor development delays can be normal, says the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC).

Still, evaluating newborn neurological behavior can indicate if there are problems present and possibly prevent significant developmental delays as the baby grows.


Neurological Behavior of a Newborn


Apgar Score

Immediately following birth, the doctor or midwife will evaluate the newborn for his Apgar score. This score is calculated one minute after the baby is born and again five minutes later.

There should be an improvement in the score within this span of time.

Factors that are evaluated include reflexes, muscle tone, skin color, breathing rate and heart rate. A poor Apgar score could indicate a neurological or physical problem.


Involuntary Reflexes

Involuntary reflexes allow a physician to see if newborn neurological and brain function are normal, says Boston Children’s Hospital. Simple tests can provide answers.

For instance, you can stroke a newborn’s palm to see if she will close her fingers into a grasp. Touching the bottom of her foot should bring on the Babinski reflex where the big toe bends back. Stroking her cheek should bring on the rooting reflex, which she uses to seek out the breast.



It is normal for newborns to be quite sleepy in the first few days of life. This may be even more pronounced if medications were given during the delivery. Newborns usually only sleep for a few hours at a time, with brief periods of alertness.

Sleeping for more than five hours in a row from the second day forward could be sign of a health or neurological issue, according to the Group Health Research Institute.


Development Delays

Normal infant development is assessed through the achievement of developmental milestones.

Though 3% of babies won’t meet these milestones within the average timeframe, only about 15% of them actually have a development problem, according to CHOC. This is why early neurological assessment is vital, as it can identify potential problems and allow parents to seek out the appropriate treatments.


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Neurological Behavior of a Newborn


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