The Moro Reflex

The Moro Reflex begins to function 9-12 weeks after conception and is normally fully developed at birth. It is the baby’s alarm reflex.Newborns are incapable of rational thought as their Neo-Cortex (the pink squiggly part of your brain) hasn’t fully developed. So to ensure they are protected, we have developed an alarm reflex. This alarm reflex is triggered by excessive information to any of the baby’s senses.  Loud noise, bright light, sudden rough touch or sudden dropping or tilting turns on this reflex.  When the response to threat is identified, baby replies with the startle reaction followed by the protective pose of the foetal position.  Baby arches their head back, lifts arms up and back, spreads the hands and takes in a gasp of air, then curls forwards, pulls its legs up, folds its arms across its chest and breathes out as in a cry for help. If the Moro Reflex persists beyond three to six months of age it becomes an automatic, uncontrollable overreaction, strong enough to override the newly operating decision making centres in the brain.This often manifests in oversensitivity (light, sound, touch or any stress) and this is when your child removes themselves from situations that most children would find exciting such as birthday parties, loud play, loud noises etc. They typically are seen to have trouble socialising, accepting or giving affection and uncomfortable with new or stimulating experiences.Fight or flight responses prepare the body for fighting or running. It relies on a burst of adrenalin into the bloodstream to provoke the energy you need to immediately remove yourself from an alarming situation. The Moro Reflex stimulates this pattern of response which may occur at inappropriate times and your child (or adult) may be aggressive, over reactive, highly excitable or unable to turn off and relax. These responses are purely for survival (to fight or to run). 

This is often misdiagnosed as ADHD or seen as Bad Behaviour! But it is a response to not feeling safe.

The Moro reflex may be triggered many times a day putting a constant demand on the adrenal glands which can become fatigued (which is often called Adrenal Fatigue).  As these glands play an important role in immune system function, a person may experience chronic illnesses and allergies when the adrenals are fatigued. This can exhibit in a child or adult of ‘always’ being sick, ecsema, asthma, psorisis, unexplained pain or chronic hayfever.When an inappropriate Moro Reflex begins to integrate after therapy, there may be changes in emotional state or behaviour.  Emotional ups and downs are common as the nervous system and hormonal system adjust.  This is a normal and very temporary phase of integration.  With a retained Moro, your child may never have fully experienced the discovery phase of development (the “terrible twos”) and as the Moro integrates, the child (or teenager or adult) has the opportunity to pass through this important developmental phase.

How Is the Moro and Fight or Flight Response Linked?

We find that if a child or adult still has the Moro present, there may be some distinct behavioral or learning obstacles to combat. If the Moro Reflex does not inhibit, the child has exaggerated reactions to sounds, hot and cold, touch, and visual and hearing input.  The Moro is much more heightened than the adult startle reflex, which is why a child may continue to have sensitivities in school or at home even when they grow older. The Moro Reflex never leave their body.

One of the typical symptoms I see in a child that displays the Moro Reflex past the normal integration time is the constant fight or flight mode – which is also exhibited as Anxiety.

When kids are in the fight or flight mode, they are reacting and responding on instinct and survival. Watch this video ‘The Field Guide to Your Brain and Anxiety’ to understand how the brain functions when the fight or flight mode is in play.In order to understand how to react with understanding, we must be aware of where this fight or flight originates in our child. If your child has retained the Moro Reflex, you may see some of the following symptoms:

  • Frequently in the “fight or flight” mode; always on edge; heightened state of awareness
  • Anxiety
  • Exaggerated startle reaction
  • Motion sickness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Poor impulse control
  • Poor coordination (particularly in sports), which leads to sequencing and memory issues
  • Easily distracted
  • Significant mood swings
  • Poor eye movement leading to processing problems
  • Difficulty ignoring background noise

As a parent with a child that is frequently in a heightened state of Anxiety, it can be stressful, exhausting and concerning. You want to help your child calm down, but many times they won’t allow help or there are many barriers you are not sure what approach to take. Which in turn can heighten your own anxiety.

How to test for the Moro Reflex at Home

There are three ways to test your child for the Moro reflex to see if it is still present in your child. It is how we determine if it could be the cause of your child’s balance and coordination issues, fight or flight mode, fidgeting and behavior problems.At home testStand behind your child, have them close their eyes and stand up straight with their hands touching their chest (elbows bent). Tell your child to fall backward into your arms (catch them under the armpits). When your child falls backward, if they flail their arms outward instead of keeping them toward their chest, this is a sign they still have the Moro reflex present. While their eyes are closed you can also snap your fingers close to their ears. If the noise startles them and they flail their arms outward, this is another sign of a retained reflex.

So what now?

If you have tested your child for the Moro Reflex and you think they have retained it, then your child will most likely continue to show signs of fight or flight in the classroom. Flourish Kinesiology can help your child with specific treatment that will integrate the reflex that should have disappeared when they were a baby. Your child will be calmer and will no longer feel anxiety.