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What is a Primitive Reflex?


Look at that sweet little hand! The grasping of a baby's hand around their parent's finger is actually a sign of something called a primitive reflex. A prim-what?


A primitive reflex is an involuntary motion that helps with the development of certain skills in babies. The five basic primitive reflexes that all infants are born with are sucking, rooting, palmar grasp, plantar grasp, the moro (startle) reflex, and tonic neck reflex. The sucking reflex helps initiate feeding. Rooting helps babies search for a nipple, whether on a breast or bottle. Babies will grasp with their hands and feet when pressure is pushed against the palm or sole. They will also fling their arms and legs out when getting placed down, like in a crib, which is the moro reflex. The tonic reflex is seen when a baby turns their head, straightening out the arm they are looking at and tucking the opposite arm in close to their body.


Infants use these reflexes for survival, to eat and to attempt to stay close to their caregiver. Gradually, these reflexes will seem to go away. What is really happening is the baby's brain is integrating these reflexes and bringing more complicated reflexes on board, that will help the baby continue to adapt to the world around them, as they begin to roll, crawl, and walk and navigate their environment in an upright manner.


If your baby is under the age of 2, they will be checked for primitive reflexes at their initial assessment with Dr. Morgan. If a child over the age of 2 is indicating they may have an unintegrated primitive reflex, then they will also be checked. Indicators may be things like difficulty concentrating in school, experiencing bed wetting, and W sitting. Your child will be given exercises to do at home that will help these reflexes get integrated properly. Once their brain has fully done so, between the combination of chiropractic care and exercise, we usually see the child's symptoms improve. This indicates neurological development and advancement has happened.


One simple trick to try at home is to test for the palmar grasp reflex. Take something like a small paintbrush and run it across each palm. If the sensation makes your fingers twitch or makes your hand feel itchy, this can indicate you have a retained grasp reflex. The integrate this, you would start out running the brush across your palm a few times a day and work up to 10 times a day over the course of 30 days. This "overloads" your brain in a sense, making it become very aware of the reflex that the sensation is causing, and encourages the neurological change to integrate the reflex.


So while it may seem like a simple thing, that a baby is grabbing onto your finger, it is actually a sign of some really incredible neurological work that is occurring! If you have any questions about how this may be relevant to you or your child, ask away!

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