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Primitive reflexes, what are they?

Updated on January 10, 2014
Primitive reflexes are important for development
Primitive reflexes are important for development

What are primitive reflexes?

One of the first reflexes to develop after conception is the Fear Paralysis Reflex(FPR). This reflex emerges in the second month after conception and is characterised by a rapid withdrawal movement as a response to a tactile stimulation of the mouth region.

The FPR should be integrated into the Moro Reflex pattern by the 12th week after conception. This reflex emerges at the 8-9th week in utero and should be fully emerged by the 30th week. In the newborn the Moro reflex is triggered when he is frightened. First baby takes a deep breath, then he flings his arms and legs away from his body then his arms and legs bend into the middle of his body and he begins to cry. In the womb, this reflex helps the foetus to exercise his respiratory muscles. As a newborn this reflex then actives the Clinging reflex and baby starts to cry/whinge until his mother picks up and and rocks him back and forth until he calms down. The infant learns that there is always a safe haven.

The Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex,(TLR) emerges 12 weeks after conception. The forward aspect of this reflex provides the foetal position of the baby in the womb, and increases the muscle tone in the front of the body. The backward aspect of the reflex develops at the time of delivery to help the baby down the birth canal. The whole body will now be able to bend backwards, increasing the muscle tone in the neck, back and leg extensors. This reflex is mostly integrated by 9 months and remains in a less active form until 3 years old. It helps the child to learn stability and balance in the upright position.

At 4weeks old, baby starts to develop the Landau reflex and whilst prone starts to lift his head from the floor. In another 1-2 months baby can also lift his chest when his head is raised. This reflex, along with the integration of the TLR helps to increase the muscle tone in the back of the neck, while lying on his tummy. Baby is then able to reach out, grasp and bring things to his mouth. This also helps baby develop his near vision. At 4 months old the lower Landau emerges and baby starts to extend his legs from the floor along with his head. This reflex should be integrated by 3 years old.

The Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex develops at around 6 months old and integrates at 9-11 months old. It is important as it further integrates the TLR and strengthens the muscle tone of baby’s back and neck. It is important for the development of proper body posture, so that baby can start to crawl and move his body independent of the position of his head.

The amphibian reflex develops at 4-6 months old and is dependent on the reflexes that have emerged and developed before it, in particular the ATNR and Spinal Galant reflexes. The amphibian reflex allows automatic flexion of baby’s arm, hip and knee on the same side as when the pelvis is raised. The means that arm and leg movement is no longer dependent on baby’s head position. This is important to allow baby to get into the correct position to roll over, creep and crawl. As he gets older, this reflex is important to allow him to use his hip/leg and shoulder/arm independently to walk, run and skip. This reflex allows independent and controlled movement in the older child.

The Spinal Galant reflex develops 20 weeks after conception and integrated 3-9 months after delivery. In the foetus it is important in conducting body vibrations and aids in the development of the vestibular system. This reflex helps to improve muscle tone along the spine and helps baby move down the birth canal during delivery.

To help prepare the feet for walking the Babinski reflex develops just after birth and remains active up to 1-2 years old. By this time it should be integrated. The Babinski reflex is important for the development of muscle tone in the lower part of the body, especially to enable the hips and core to move rhythmically and smoothly.

These reflexes (and more) are important in the development of baby. They help him to achieve his milestones. When some of these developmental milestones are missed baby misses the opportunity to wire his nervous system and brain appropriately. It is believed that this mis-wiring may be the cause of some of the learning difficulties we see in older children.

Ref:Blomberg, H with Dempsey, M. Movements that Heal, Ryhtmic Movement training and Primitive Reflex Integration.BookPal 2011.

Goddard-Blythe, Sally. Attention, Balance and Coordination. The A.B.C. of Learning Success.Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

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