Transition from Reflex Movement to Voluntary Movement

At birth, babies have very little control over their bodies. They spend most of their time curled up in what is called a fetal position. This position is how the baby lay in the womb during the nine months of the mother's pregnancy. In addition to the fetal position, primitive reflexes dominate virtually all of a newborn baby's movements. Babies are born with these reflexive movements as a means for basic life preservation. The reflexes, which are controlled by lower levels of the brain, eventually give way to more sophisticated voluntary movements monitored by higher levels of the brain.

The first voluntary task of a newborn is learning to bring the arms and legs out straight in order to lie flat. This maneuver takes a lot of muscular energy, so the baby begins moving arms and legs around during the waking hours to develop coordination and strength. As babies move their bodies more in the first months of life, motor pathways begin to form in the brain. These pathways allow a baby to eventually perform motor movements without conscious thought.

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