Primitive Reflexes
and why they matter

Primitive Reflexes are a set of instinctual, automatic movements that a fetus does in the womb. These reflexes emerge to develop all the systems in the body like a synchronized symphony. It also helps the fetus come out of the womb, take their first breath and supports survival in the first year of life. After the Primitive Reflexes have completed their purpose they become inhibited and higher brain centers take their place. This process of Primitive Reflexes emerging, serving their purpose and inhibiting, creates the building blocks of how the brain and Central Nervous System develop and mature. If they become locked in the system, it creates fragmentation in the maturing of the brain and nervous system. Below are examples of Primitive Reflexes and what happens if they become stuck and remain active.


Moro Reflex

Moro Reflex

  • The infant startle reflex is associated with fight and flight and is also known as the grasping reflex
  • Emerges in the fetus around 9 weeks in womb
  • Usually serves it’s purpose within 4 months to one year of life
  • This Primitive Reflex helps the infant to take their first breath, raise alarm to the adults around them if needed and grasp onto their parent
  • The matured Moro reflex is called “the Strauss response” originating from the cerebellum

A retained Moro Reflex can put the Nervous system in a state of constant overstimulation.
Emotional symptoms include —

  • Free floating anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Low self esteem
  • Hyperactivity followed by fatigue
  • Withdrawn or hyper active or both
  • Difficulty with criticism
  • A need to be in control of surrounding environment
  • A child can be sensitive, perceptive and imaginative but on the other hand immature and overactive

Physiological Consequences

  • Stressed immune system
  • Prone to allergies
  • Possible recurring infections
  • Shallow breathing
  • General weakness or tension in the body
  • Weakened constitution

Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR)

TLR Reflex in Flexion

TLR Reflex in Flexion

TLR is named after the inner ear canal (labyrinthine) which is also known as vestibular system

First part of TLR is in the flexion stage

  • Emerges in the womb between 10-12 weeks, and usually integrates around 4 months after birth
  • As the fetus’s head flexes below the midline, the arms and legs flex into a fetal position
TLR Reflex in Extension

TLR Reflex in Extension

Second part of TLR is in the extension stage

  • Activated by birth when baby extends head out of womb
  • Reflex emerges at birth and usually integrates between 3 and 4 years of age
  • As the head extends backwards below the spine, the whole body extends


A retained TLR will constantly disrupt balance and impact other sensory systems

  • May have trouble acquiring true standing or walking security.
  • May experience difficulty in proprioception which will impact judgement of the body in space, distance, depth and speed which may impact PE and other physical activities
  • Clumsiness and slumped posture patterns, with weak or stiff muscle tone
  • Difficulty following sequential ideas and instructions
  • Difficulty with eye tracking (Nystagmus) which impacts reading skills

Asymettrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR)

ATNR Reflex

ATNR Reflex

  • Emerges in the fetus at around 18 weeks.
  • Serves it’s purpose within 6 months after birth.
  • The ATNR along with other reflexes assists the baby in unscrewing down the birth canal and is fully reinforced by the birthing process
  • Caesarean or forceps can interfere with the reflex fully reaching it’s potential

A retained ATNR can impede the two sides of the body from working graciously together.

Possible effects of retained ATNR:

  • Eye tracking may not function smoothly and reading and comprehension skills can be hindered
  • Writing skills may never be automatic
  • Can impede the two sides of the body from working graciously together
  • May have difficulty multi-tasking
  • The extended palm and arm can cause an immature pencil grip which hinder development of a mature pincer grip
  • Awkward non symmetrical movements when running or swimming