You may never have heard of the Moro Reflex (Wikipedia), and I only discovered the name when I did a lot of internet research to figure out why my baby was behaving in this strange and startling way.
When lying flat on her back and fast asleep, she would suddenly and without warning raise both arms up in the air, hands spread out as though conducting an orchestra through a particularly energetic movement from Tchaikovsky. The arms would then gradually relax and float very slowly down, only for the whole thing to happen again, several times in a row, before she’d settle. It was as though she’d been surprised or startled but it hadn’t woken her up.
Being new parents, we reacted the only way we knew how. We panicked and spent half the night on the internet trying to figure out what this was.
As an aside, googling “symptoms of…” and then the name of some random pathology typically brings up a list of symptoms so long that you’re bound to find three of four in there that you recognise, and by the time you’re done, especially if you’re doing this on two hours of sleep, you’ll be convinced that everyone in your household has some rare disease that went out of fashion in the middle ages. A better way of searching is to type “<symptom 1> <symptom 2> baby”, or something similar. Then at least the first thing you find out thousands of people are talking about the same thing and you’re not alone.
We swaddled for a while (more about in a future post), but we didn’t do it systematically and we stopped early because of concerns regarding how swaddling affects babies hips some concerns of overheating and not wanting her to get dependent on it to go to sleep. So when we’d choose not to swaddle her, we’d see this conductor-like behaviour in her sleep, which was concerning at first, but really very endearing after we understood it was normal.
The Moro Reflex is a sudden spreading or contraction of the upper limbs as a consequence of your baby believing that they are falling. It happens when you sit your baby down and let them fall backwards onto their backs, and it happens occasionally as they fall asleep, or during their sleep. It’s perfectly harmless, lasts until they are 3 or 4 months old (V stopped when she was just over 2 months), but does occasionally wake up your baby in the middle of the night.