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Born to Know: Instincts Infants Are Born With

Updated on March 13, 2012


They seem so helpless, and really are in so many ways. In fact, human babies are one of the most helpless newborn creatures on this earth. They need parental care for much longer before they can even partially take care of themselves. Though in a strange way, while humans may be more helpless at the start, they are equipped to be more capable and more adaptable then nearly any other species.

This shows from birth, when you look at what skills and instincts babies are born with. Some of them are expected, while others are very surprising.

Suckling Reflex

Most mother's can attest to this one. When you lightly brush a babies cheek, they automatically turn and start suckling. It's a reflex that is necessary to their survival, so there isn't a big surprise that babies are born with this instinct.


Surprisingly, a researcher at Yale university has found that babies are born with the ability to do basic mathematics. They can count with a glance, they know when something should add up and they recognize when an equation doesn't make sense. The researcher managed to figure this out, by testing babies using the "looking method", which shows when a baby between 1 and 6 months is interested in something. Then she uses objects to pose simple math problems to babies. Most of the time, when the equation is right, the babies are bored and don't really give the whole thing more than a glance. Though when the equation is wrong, nearly all the babies stared and stared at it.

This isn't obviously direct proof that babies can do math, but it would make sense. Babies know they have two parents, that mom has two breasts and many probably recognize a certain number of siblings, relatives and family friends. The older they get, the more they start to recognize certain amounts way before we give them credit for knowing them. Two eyes, two ears, two hands. Babies math capabilities advance pretty quickly as they grow.


Have you ever placed your finger in a babies hand and noticed how tightly they grasp? Scientist believe this instinct is left over from our early days as more ape-ish creatures, when we needed to grab onto mom's fur coat for various reasons.

Babies still do this, though the skill is not as necessary as it once was. Now they mostly use it to get a hold of that long hair!

Stepping Reflex

Amazingly, from the moment a child is born into this world, they already have all the reflexes and skills needed to walk. The only thing that stops them from doing so, is that their center of gravity is off do to an over-sized head and their nervous system still needs time to finish developing.

If it weren't for the head and nervous system, human babies would walk within a day or so, just like most other creatures on this earth. Though it's probably better for them and their parents that they need to wait a while before they can walk. Can you imagine the trouble an infant could get into if they could walk right away? =)

Holding Breath Underwater

Most researchers have found that the best time for a person to take swimming lessons, is when they are 3 to 6 months old. The reason for this, is because babies are born with the instinct to hold their breath underwater, and they loose that natural reflex as they grow older. Unless of course, they are trained to keep it, through swimming lessons.

Researchers believe this was once a necessary survival reflex, and though its helpful these days, it's not as necessary to babies survival that they hold their breath. It's more of a bonus anymore.

Throwing out arms and legs when startled

This one is as interesting as it is baffling. Infants have a natural reflex to throw out their arms and legs when they are startled. Some believe it's left over from hairier days and was used to help them grab onto mom or a near by object in a moments need.

At this point, it's hard to tell specifically what the reflex is for, but it's apparent that nearly all babies are born with this skill.


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      deedledeeds 4 years ago

      I heard somewhere a while back that human babies are born with two fears. The sound of loud noises and fear of falling. I've noticed that's true. Clap your hands over the face of a baby or as you're holding them, briefly let them go and in both instances they'll cry loudly.

    • Truckstop Sally profile image

      Truckstop Sally 6 years ago

      Nice hub! Brought back those days when my kiddos were babies. Long, long ago. Honestly, they seem pretty helpless these days, and they are 24, 19, and 25. Ha!! I'll always be Mom, and they will always be kids!