Impact of Retained Moro reflex

The Moro reflex, commonly known as the startle reflex in babies is a primitive reflex (emerges at 9 weeks in utero) that is present after birth in infants.

The purpose for this reflex is to provide the baby with an internal alarm system to protect himself from danger. We see this reflex in action when the baby is startled by a noise, sudden movement or Changes in gravity as felt by the head.

It consists of a sudden symmetrical movement of the arms upwards - away from the body - with opening of the hands, momentary freeze and then a gradual return of the arms across the body into a clasping posture (Sally Goddard).

This reflex should slowly integrate between 2-4 months into the adult startle response that is present in adults.

When this fails to integrate (e.g traumatic birthing, toxicity, head injury, C-section…), a child may become hypersensitive to their environment (especially light and sounds). It will be difficult for them to ignore irrelevant stimuli like a nightlight in the bedroom, a clock ticking noise, road noise or understanding a conversation in a noisy background. Their senses will be continuously stimulated.

Over time, the child will “burn out” or become steadily fatigued. At this point, their body’s systems suffer, the adrenaline and cortisol may dampen their immune system, which is why your child may often be rundown or get sick more often and may develop allergies.

Children with retained Moro reflex may feel anxious, constantly on the verge of a fight/flight response; have difficulties to understand their world or adjust to change. They may withdraw or try to dominate to get some control over their emotional response which may result in socialisation issues.

The Moro Reflex can sometimes be retained to adulthood or reappears following a brain injury or major trauma. Signs may be a free-floating anxiety; excessive reaction to stimuli (mood swings; difficulty accepting criticism; tense muscle tone; constant feeling of insecurity; feeling on alert; difficulty making decisions; low self-esteem).

If you suspect your child (or yourself) has Moro, there are a few test I generally perform in clinic to confirm it (one of them being the child will fall backwards into my arm which may cause their arms to raise outwards).

I use an array of tools such as acupressure, bodywork and give you home exercises that will integrate the reflex and slowly put it back to sleep.

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