Retained Primitive Reflexes

Retained Primitive Reflexes

What are Primitive Reflexes?

Primitive Reflexes are automatic responses that develop whilst the baby is growing in the womb. They form in the lower centre of the brain, AKA the reptilian brain, where our primal survival modes are stored.

As the brain is far from developed into a thinking brain at this point, the automatic reflexes form to assist with our survival whilst we are in utero, during the birthing process, and up to the first 12 months in the big wide world. They automatically respond to external sensory stimuli. 

These primal, automatic reflexes are usually integrated fully by 12 months (24 months at the most). They integrate as more sophisticated movements and behaviours develop alongside the maturation of the baby’s thinking brain.


The Role of the Reflexes

The reflexes help the baby to respond to various sensory stimuli in the absence of a developed thinking brain. They help the body to respond to situations that the more developed, thinking brain would make decisions about. Each reflex provides an automatic response to stimuli.

retained primitive reflexes children

Types of Reflexes

  • Fear Paralysis Reflex – provides a freeze reaction to a perceived threat. 
  • Moro Reflex – a startle response, arousing the fight or flight systems of the sympathetic nervous system.
  • Palmar Reflex – helps with grasping development.
  • Plantar Reflex – helps with foot-to-ground stability.
  • Rooting Reflex – helps the baby find food by automatically turning its head towards a touched cheek.
  • Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex – helps the baby journey through the birth canal and develop cross patterning in its movements. 
  • Symmetrical Tonic Reflex – helps prepare the baby for crawling patterns by flexing and extending the limbs, in conjunction with the neck movement. 
  • Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex – helps in managing the head during crawling and developing a standing posture. 
  • Spinal Gallant Reflec – helps the hips to rotate, propelling the body forwards. 

Signs of a Retained Primitive Reflex

The reflexes are the base from which higher-level movements, behaviours, and senses develop. If they are retained and not fully integrated, we can often find disorganisation of the neural pathways in these higher-level areas.

Reflexes are often retained due to the experience of trauma within the womb, at birth or in the first year of life; injury, environmental factors, toxins, stress, too much blue light (screentime), lack of movement, and developmental patterning in the first year (tummy time, delayed crawling), poor nutrition, and emotional instability. 

Retained reflexes can show up in children, teenagers, and adults in a wide variety of ways, including (but not limited to) emotional instability or immaturity, poor fine motor skills such as handwriting or pen-holding issues, difficulties with hand-eye coordination and reading, poor posture and muscle tone, poor concentration, forgetfulness, bed wetting, inability to sit still, poor proprioception, difficulty judging space, poor balance, disorganised gait patterns… to name but a few.

It is really important to note that retained primitive reflexes affect both children and adults and that dormant reflexes can resurface at a later date, due to experience of any of the factors detailed above.

retained primitive reflexes children
retained primitive reflexes

Integrating the Reflexes

At My Bodyworks, we can screen the reflexes to see which ones are retained and can work with you or your child to reintegrate them.

Alongside clearing the reflex, we use simple movement exercises and emotional alignment techniques to lay down more optimal neural pathways to the more sophisticated emotional and movement responses, which have been missed at the developmental stages or resurfaced through injuries and stress on the system.