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Also known as the startle reflex, this is the characteristic reflex of newborns. When the baby is startled (classically one allows the baby's head to fall back a bit), he throws his arms wide, spreading the fingers, then grabs instinctively with the arms and fingers (for his mother, of course). The reflex should be brisk and above all symmetrical. One of the functions of swaddling, in my mind, is to suppress this reflex, which often upsets the little tyke. An asymmetric startle reflex, in which one arm does not act symmetrically with its companion, implies a paralysis or weakness on one side of the body, most commonly Erb's palsy.