The Moro Reflex develops about the thirteens week of gestation. It develops to help protect the baby from danger sensed through the sensory system and take the first breath of life. When a newborn is startled or receives sensory input like a jarring, sudden light or sound, the arms will flail out, then baby quickly takes a deep breath, then curls up crossing both the arms and legs.
This is an involuntary reflex that is part of normal development and should disappear between 2-4 months of age. Because this reflex is triggered by the sensory systems, it can cause an array of problems if it remains longer.
Pediatricians will check this reflex at the baby’s 6 week appointment to make sure it is present. They seldom check in later appointments to make sure it was integrated and gone. It is not part of the pediatric list of assessments done at later appointments.
Because of the changing environment, procedures, and lack of tummy time, more children are not integrating this reflex.
Retained Moro Reflex Symptoms
- Easily Distracted
- Hypersensitive to sensory stimuli like light and sound and touch.
- Over sensitivity to motion causing car sickness
- Or under sensitivity to sensory stimuli
- Impulsive and aggressive
- Emotional immaturity
- Withdrawn or timid and shy
- Autism Spectrum
- Sensory Disorders
- Difficulty making friends
- Health Problems
- Allergies and Asthma
- Anger or Emotional Outbursts
- Poor Balance and Coordination
- Poor Digestion and Food Sensitivities
- Even if they don’t display any of these symptoms, it is a good idea to do the quick test on them, as there may be other functions that are affected by it that are still unknown.
The Moro Reflex or “Startle Reflex” is the earliest development of the “fight or flight” instinct. When frightened or threatened, it triggers “reaction” or “retraction” from the threat. Because in infancy, it is triggered by the sensory system, it will cause sensory processing problems if not integrated. Because it triggers the Adrenals to “fight or flight” mode. It causes hyper activity and attention problems. Once the adrenals quickly tire of the over stimulation, the child usually develops chronic allergies, asthma, auto immune and other health problems connected with fatigued adrenals. Furthermore, when the body is in ‘fight or flight’ mode, the brain is in an instinctual state and cannot store or recall information as well. This contributes to learning disabilities.
The reflex can be easily integrated with about 6 weeks of simple exercises. Many of the symptoms will disappear or improve as the brain and body start to function better.
Moro Reflex Test
Have the child sit on a low chair or lay on their back. Ask them to open their arms and legs out like a starfish. Now ask them to bring them in crossing them as they curl up. You may need to demonstrate it for them or let them see the pictures below. Generally they will cross with the opposite arm from leg on top. This is normal, at first, and the way they did it when startled as an infant.
Now ask them to spread arms and legs out again and cross/curl up, again but with the same arm as leg on top. Right Leg and Right arm on top. If they are too young to know right from left, put a sticker on the back of their right hand and on their right foreleg. Ask them to cross up with stickers on top.
Now do the same with the left side.
If they struggle doing this then the reflex is still present and needs to be integrated with “Starfish Exercises”.