Primitive reflexes are the early stage reflexes developed in-utero. They begin to emerge at different stages during pregnancy, with the first series of them emerging by just nine weeks after conception. They continue to emerge and develop during life in the womb.
Some primitive reflexes do not emerge until late in pregnancy and as a result, they can be under-developed or be absent in pre-term babies born before 32 weeks.
These reflexes are designed to help the newborn survive for the first six to nine months of life outside the womb. They are needed during this time because the infants brain is not fully wired at birth. Their nervous system and neural connections between different levels in the brain are underdeveloped.
It is during the first six months of life that the higher brain centres develop and take more direct control. This facilitates the inhibition of the primitive reflexes.
This is called reflex integration. It occurs as a result of the maturation of the central nervous system and physical interaction with the environment (real world experiences via the sensory system).
Research has shown time and time again that if there is sensory deprivation in the early years this results in brain alteration. Conversely, if there is an enriched environment provided certain areas of the brain increase developmentally.
It is the primitive reflexes that are the initial facilitators of basic motor skills. Their movements are unplanned and automatic. A response to a stimulus. However, unplanned as they may be, they provide a huge amount of learning and development and brain and body wiring. The more the baby moves the better their ability to control those movements and the muscles associated with them. This leads to the evolution of involuntary movements to voluntary movements. This progress indicates that the higher centres in the brain are in control.
Movement, specifically repeated movement, is the key to wiring the brain.
In my next blog I will take a look at some specific primitive reflexes, such as:
  • The Rooting and Suck Reflexes;
  • The Babkin Reflex;
  • The Palmar and Plantar Reflexs;
  • The Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR);
  • The Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR);
  • The Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR);
  • The Moro Reflex.
This article was written by Ollwyn Moran, our Neurological Development specialist. Check out her website, or find her on Facebook at Creeper Crawlers.
Expert in Neurological Development in Children