The Retained Moro Or Startle Reflex

A reflex is an immediate involuntary response evoked by a given stimulus.

A baby is born with about 70 primitive reflexes that will gradually subside and be integrated within the brain and body as the baby grow. These reflexes develop in utero and share the characteristics of being present at birth in a full-term, healthy baby. They are mediated or arise from the brain-stem.

The role of primitive reflexes is two-fold: firstly, to help with survival in those delicate early months when the baby’s nervous system is not fully connected and secondly, to assist the baby to move.

The Moro reflex is a multi-sensory reflex in the sense that it responds to various stimuli such as noise, smell, touch, sight and movement.

The purpose of the Moro reflex is protective and it assists survival in a neonate whose fight / flight mechanisms are too immature to be of benefit. It is a response to unexpected changes / threat within the infant’s environment. The Moro reflex should disappear at 2-4 months and should be replaced by the adult “startle” reflex.

However in some babies, primitive reflexes  are not fully integrated and results in various changes in behaviour later in their life.

If not addressed,  it could be highly disruptive in a child’s development.

Symptoms of a retained Moro reflex include:

  • Poor coordination (particularly during ball games) – which leads to poor sequencing and memory skills
  • Balance problems
  • Motion sickness
  • Sensitivity to bright lights
  • Difficulty reading black print on white paper
  • Tires easily under fluorescent lights
  • Dislike of loud noises
  • Easily distracted
  • Allergies and lower immunity
  • Dislike of change – child may be clingy or shy

Physical therapy can help address retained primitive reflexes. Moro reflex integration exercise include:

  • the bridge
  • starfish

Further therapies exercises could be added, so if you feel you child is showing any of those symptoms, Osteoperformance could put you in touch with a Pediatric Physiotherapist or Occupational Therapist.