The Moro reflex, also known as the ‘Startle’ reflex develops approximately 9-12 weeks after conception and normally disappears around 3-4 months after birth. The Moro reflex supports the infant with a protective movement pattern in response to sudden changes in the infant’s position or environment, like falling or loud noises.
The reflex has two parts, first the infant arches the head back, spreads it’s arms up and back, spreads the fingers, and takes a gasp of air and holds it. Then the child curls forward, pulls it’s legs up, folds the arms across the chest, clenches the fists, and breathes out a cry for help. These automatic movements are done instantly as a survival technique and allows the child to either grasp and cling to the mother or to protect the more vulnerable front of the body.
This reflex is easily recognizable in an infant and should disappear as higher responses develop. The Moro reflex stimulates both nerve/muscle stimulation and chemical release of adrenaline and cortisol preparing the body for ‘flight or fight’. A lot is going on inside the infant at this instant of perceived danger, the vestibular system senses the danger, deep neck muscles react, adrenalin increases the blood pressure and heart contractions, the amount of oxygen taken in increases, pupils dilate, digestion decreases, and the infusion of cortisol brings stored blood sugar into the blood for greater energy to prepare for the danger.
It is believed that if the Moro reflex is not integrated that it can potentially block the development of the other reflexes that follow. It is necessary to integrate the Moro reflex so that higher center decision-making can be utilized in moments of danger or fear, and so that the other reflexes can fully integrate for proper development and cognitive functioning.
Characteristics and effects of a retained Moro reflex:
- generalized insecurity, anxiety, and fearfulness, including panic attacks and mood swings
- difficulties approaching new situations, will react by either withdrawing or with an aggressive outburst
- in social situations, depending on the child, they may withdraw or alternately they will be overbearing and controlling trying to manipulate or maintain control of the situation
- tendency to overreact to stressful situations.
- hypersensitive to sound, light, touch(ex. wind or water in face)
- poor balance and coordination
- may suffer from motion sickness because of vestibular issues, may result in being unable to play, tumble and tolerate amusement park rides
- may suffer headaches
- may have eating issues, cravings for sweet things and snacking(inability to eat whole meals), this may be in response to the constant readiness for ‘fight or flight’ (decreased digestion and blood sugar release)
- can result in allergies and chronic illness due to a compromised immune system that has been depleted by the activation of the ‘fight or flight’ adrenaline response frequently during a day.
How does a retained Moro reflex affect my child’s learning?
- student becomes easily distracted (on high alert by all of the stimuli in the school environment)
- immature eye movements, inability to filter out irrelevant information
- difficulty focusing on details
- difficulty copying from the chalkboard
- anxiety and insecurity
If this sounds like your child, there is a high possibility their Moro reflex needs to be integrated so they can move forward.