More than 87 million people have tuned in to watch a Facebook video that some say depicts a miracle: a baby appearing to walk with the support of a nurse, just minutes after birth.
The Daily Mail reports that the woman in the video—which was uploaded Thursday—explains in Portuguese that she was trying to wash the newborn, but that the baby girl kept “getting up to walk.” The nurse pointed to where she had tried to lay the child down, saying, “She has walked from here to here.”
The video was reportedly filmed at a hospital in Brazil. Facebook’s English translation of its caption reads, “This is amazing. A baby walks just after being born.”
But while the vision of a tiny infant strolling step by step may look amazing, experts say it’s really not out-of-the-ordinary. “This is a totally normal reflex that babies have,” says Dr. Megan Heere, assistant professor of pediatrics at Temple University and medical director at Temple’s Well Baby Nursery. “If anything, this video really highlights the reflex and is a good example of what normal babies do.”
Infants have a number of primitive reflexes as soon as they’re born: They automatically close their hands to grasp when their palms are stroked, suck when the roofs of their mouths are touched, and throw out their arms when they’re startled, for example.
The step reflex, also known as the walking or dance reflex, is what allows babies to take “steps” when held upright with their feet touching a solid surface. This reflex is present for about the first two months of life, Heere says.
Daniela Corbetta, PhD, director of the Infant Perception-Action Laboratory at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, says the stepping reflex has been documented in newborns since the 1940s. The alternating leg pattern shown in the video “looks like walking, but really is only a stepping motion,” Corbetta told Health in an email. “This is very far from being able to walk.”
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Heere says the step reflex can occur when infants are supported by the upper body, which stimulates the weightless environment they experience in the womb. “It’s up for debate why this reflex occurs, but some experts say it’s to develop lower limb muscles that they’ll later use for independent, and conscious, walking,” she says.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, babies begin to voluntarily push down with their legs when their feet are on a hard surface around 4 months of age; they may also be able to roll over from their tummy to their back at this time. They begin to sit without support around 6 months, and most can crawl and pull themselves to a standing position, while holding onto something, by 9 months.
By their first birthday, babies may take a few steps unassisted, and most can “cruise” around a room, or walk while holding onto furniture. “Anywhere from 9 months up until around 15 or 16 months is normal for walking, as long as the baby is progressing in milestones at minimal intervals,” Heere says.
In an interesting coincidence, however, one of those milestones may be up for debate: Recent research from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology demonstrates how some babies—with specialized training—can stand on their own by 4 months of age.
A news article published by the university contains fascinating photos and videos of these babies standing unsupported, out of the water, during a swim class. “The results appear remarkable when compared to the expected age required for other forms of independent standing,” the authors wrote in Frontiers in Psychology.
But while every baby is different, it would be downright impossible for one to take deliberate steps so soon after birth. Besides the fact that infants’ brains haven’t developed enough for that, they also lack the required muscle strength and coordination. “This newborn clearly shows no balance control,” Corbetta says. “If the nurse were to let go, the baby would fall.”
Heere says that looking for this and other reflexes is actually part of any normal physical exam for infants—which is one reason it’s so important for new parents and babies to attend these regular appointments. (As kids get older, she adds, checkups are also important to make sure they’re meeting their developmental milestones.)
“It tells us they’re developing neurologically as they should be,” she says. “I often show the parents, ‘Look how cute, the baby can grab my hand.’ The baby can’t control it, but it shows that she’s normal and healthy.”
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