Primitive reflexes

Withdrawal Reflex


  • About five weeks after conception, the baby in the womb begins to respond to external stimuli.  The first point of stimuli is the upper lip, a few days later, the stimuli spreads to the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet and then the rest of the body. Any touch to the upper lip in the first few weeks of conception or to other parts of the body weeks after conception will cause the embryo to withdraw in an amoeba like fashion.  During this stage in development, the only response of the embryo to any type of touch or contact is withdrawal. 
  • At about 9-12 weeks after conception, the first of the primitive reflexes begins to develop and progresses throughout the pregnancy and is fully present at birth.

Symptoms if Retained:

  • Total body reaction
  • Hypersensitive to touch
  • Underdeveloped blink reflex

MORO (startle) Reflex


  • At about nine weeks in utero, the primitive Moro reflex emerges and should continue through about the first two to four months of life.  It then should diminish so that the adult startle response emerges and remains throughout the rest of the individual’s life. 
  • The Moro reflex is a startle response – the first “fight or flight” response of an individual. Because the Moro reflex  is connected to all of the other senses (light, sound, touch, smell, or taste) the effects of its retention are significant.

 Its Purposes:

  • May help to initiate first breadth of life
  • Helps to stimulate breathing after birth
  • May assist in the inhibition and integration of the withdrawal reflex
  • Alerts caregiver to possible danger

What Activates the Moro?

  • Any kind  of sudden unexpected occurrence
  • Any sudden change in head position
  • Any sudden change in touch, sound, light, taste or smell

Symptoms of a retained Moro

  • Hypersensitivity  to sound & touch
  • Emotional  Immaturity
  • Hyper-reaction
  • Stimulus bound
  • Free Floating Anxiety
  • Poor Attention, Balance & Coordination
  • Compromised immune functioning
  • Easily  overstimulated
  • Inability to respond appropriately to situations
  • Photosensitivity
  • Visual  perception Problems
  • Auditory  Confusion

Palmar Reflex

  •  The Palmar, or grasp, reflex also emerges in utero and should be replaced by the pincer grasp by about two to three months of life.  As the pincer grasp begins to dominate, the thumb and forefinger are able to grasp in opposition

Purpose of the Palmar:

  • Grasping
  • Feeding – appears to reinforce sucking via babkin response

Symptoms of a Retained Palmar:

  • Fist Grip  (no pincer grip & fine finger movements)
  • Child unable to support self with open palms
  • Continued connection between hand mouth affect speech and articulation child makes movement with mouth when trying to write or draw.)

The Asymmetric Tonic Neck reflex (ATNR)


Emerges in utero.  It should inhibit at about six months of age.

It’s Purposes:

  • Facilitates movement in the womb
  • Assists in balance control.  
  • May be activated during the birth process.  
  • Helps the fetus and newborn develop muscle tone
  • Assists with homolateral movements such as in early creeping, and early hand-eye  coordination.  
  • Ensures free airway when lying on the tummy (the head will turn toward the extended arm rather than face down).

Symptoms of a Retained ATNR

  • Head movement affects balance & coordination (Poor balance and coordination)
  • Difficulty crossing midline from one side of the body to the other
  • Poor hand – eye coordination
  • Poor handwriting / difficulty writing
  • Poor eye tracking / difficulty reading

Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR)

  • The Tonic Labyrinthine reflex in the forward (flexed) position emerges in utero and inhibits at about the age of four months.  It's counterpart, the Tonic Labyrinthine reflex in the backward position (extension) emerges at birth and gradually diminishes between six months and three years of age, as the postural and bridging reflexes are emerging.  This reflex is closely linked with the Moro.  Both are vestibular in origin.

It’s Purpose:

  • May assist baby to get ready for birth. Head extension may play a part in entry into birth canal
  • May assist baby “straighten out” from the flexed position of the fetus and the newborn
  • Help develop muscle tone
  • Helps baby adapt to gravity

Symptoms of a retained TLR:

  • Low muscle tone
  • Poor balance
  • Poor visual Perception. (difficulty judging space, distance & depth)
  • Motion sickness
  • Poor Posture
  • Eye movement difficulties
  • Inability  to crawl on stomach
  • Inability to creep on hands & knees
  • Hypertonia (stiff, rigid muscle tone)
  • Poor sequencing skills
  • Poor organizational skills

Symmetric Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR)

  •  The Symmetrical Tonic Neck reflex (STNR) is considered a “bridge” reflex as it emerges after birth and should inhibit soon thereafter.  It emerges between six and nine months of age and should be inhibited between nine and eleven months.

Its Purposes:

  • Helps infant defy gravity – lifting self off the floor
  • Assists with alignment of spinal cord for later standing position
  • Assists  with visual accommodation through creeping on hands & knees

Symptoms of a Retained STNR:

  • Poor Posture (tendency to slump when sitting)
  • Poor hand-eye coordination
  • Difficulty copying from board to desk
  • Unable to swim (upper/lower body integration problems)
  • Poor attention / concentration
  • Difficulty with vertical tracking (problems aligning columns in math)

Head Righting Reflexes (HRR)

  •  These are postural reflexes that emerge between two and four months of age and should remain for life.  While the Labyrinthine Head Righting reflexes operate from the midbrain, the Oculo Head Righting reflexes are dependent on the functioning of the cerebral cortex (higher brain activity). Underdeveloped horizontal headrighting reflexes may also be an indication of a retained ATNR, whereas underdeveloped forward and backward headrighting reflexes may indicate a retained TLR.  

It’s Purposes:

  • Allow the head to automatically respond to the pull of gravity on the body so that balance is maintained.  
  • Allows the  Vestibular-Ocular Reflex Arc to function effectively, which maintains  visual stability during head movement.

Symptoms of Retained HRR:

  •  Impairment of balance, controlled eye movements and visual perception.
  •  Poor Posture
  •  Poor visual fixation and visual pursuit.  This will affect reading ability, comprehension, spelling, and copying.  Simple skills like catching a ball may be difficult or impossible. 

Spinal Galant

  •  The Spinal Galant reflex emerges in utero and should inhibit between three and nine months of age.  

It’s Purpose:

  • Facilitates movement in the womb and allows hip flexibility.
  • May assist in the birth process by encouraging hip rotation as baby makes its way down the birth canal
  • Also works to help get the elimination system up and going.  

Symptoms of a Retained Spinal Galant:

  •  Constant fidgetiness, inability to sit still (“ants in the pants” child) 
  •  Difficulty with concentration
  •  Poor bladder control and bedwetting past the age of five
  • Tactile hypersensitivity
  • Auditory processing difficulties
  • Possible scoliosis of the spine
  • Dislike for clothes fitted at the waist
  • Posture and gait problems (hip rotation to one side when walking on the side). 
  • It may also interfere with the full development of the later amphibian and segmental rolling reflexes, affecting fluency and mobility in physical activities or sports.