Retained Neonatal Reflexes

Retained Neonatal Reflexes

There are movements and functions within our body just happen without us having to think about them. They are necessary for us to be able to survive.

Although some reflexes we keep for life (such as the knee-jerk response or moving a limb away from a painful stimulus), others are not desirable in the mature adult and may indicate under-development of parts of the brain. This can affect areas involved in learning, speech, movement and social intelligence1-2.

At Bathurst Chiropractic, we are experienced at identifying these unwanted primitive reflexes. Call Bathurst Chiropractic now for an appointment on (02) 6331 1004. Better you, better life!

What Are Primitive Reflexes?

Primitive or neonatal reflexes are involuntary actions that are developed by the brain during infancy and childhood to perform a range of survival activities such as breastfeeding, grasping and movement, but which should disappear as we age. As the brain matures, these primitive reflexes are ‘overridden’ by the higher order thinking centres as certain developmental milestones are reached.

For example, stroking an infant’s hand invokes a grasping reflex. At about 4 months of age, this reflex becomes inhibited, so that as we develop into adulthood we do not instantly clamp anything we touch. Although many parents express dismay at the loss of this reflex and similar reflexes, the loss of this reflex is a positive sign that the neonatal reflexes are becoming integrated and that the brain and the nervous system is developing healthily3!

In some adults, primitive reflexes may reappear due to a particular illness or injury, such as dementia, strokes or spinal cord lesions1. However, in some children, these reflexes remain uninhibited. It is hypothesized that persistent primitive reflexes can adversely affect a child’s development in areas of motor skills and coordination, classroom learning and social interaction1-2.

Effects of Retained Primitive Reflexes

They may be the cause of: concentration problems, speech problems, dyslexia, attention difficulties, social anxiety, compulsiveness, movement disorders and hyperactivity1-2. Researchers are also investigating as to whether retained neonatal reflexes may be potential early warning signs of autism and other developmental conditions1.

The Moro reflex, or the startle reaction, is one such primitive reflex in which the baby reacts to a sudden noise or movement with an “all-or-nothing” response, by stretching out their limbs and splaying all their fingers and toes1-2. It is an early form of the developing “fight or flight” response, controlled by the sympathetic nervous system1.

Failed inhibition of this reflex suggests that the brain never develops a rational ability to distinguish between different types of stress1. This can result in over-stimulation of the adrenal glands, leading to suppression of the body’s immune system and fatigue1.

As the child develops, this may present as anxiety, distractibility, general tiredness, recurring illness, hypersensitivity to noise, light and movement and slowed progress at school1-2. A retained Moro reflex is also suggested to be more common in children with ADHD3.

At Bathurst Chiropractic, we provide neurologically based chiropractic care for the whole family. Everything we do is to help people live better lives. If you are worried about your child’s development then call for an appointment on (02) 6331 1004 to discuss your options.


(1) Retained Neonatal Reflexes. (2015). Retrieved February 28, 2016, from

(2) Retained Neonatal (Primitive) Reflexes. (2016). Retrieved February 28, 2016, from

(3) Konicarova, J., & Bob, P. (2012). Retained Neonatal Reflexes and ADHD in Children. Activitas Nervosa Superior, 54(3-4), 135-138. Retrieved February 28, 2016.

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