What Are Retained Reflexes?
We all have reflex reactions to certain stimuli without even consciously thinking and an automatic motor response occurs such as blinking when something flies towards your eyes, or sneezing or coughing. When a baby is born, primitive reflexes develop as a way to help the baby grow and mature in their environment in their first year of life.
Examples of primitive reflexes are those for:
- Flight or fight
- Grabbing an object
- Moving the head
Causes of Retained Reflexes
As babies mature, they develop postural reflexes that are much more mature patterns of reflexes to help control balance, coordination and sensorimotor development. In some cases, babies retain their primitive reflexes past the first year of life because they fail to integrate them well with the rest of their nervous system. These are called retained reflexes. This may happen when there is too much overload and stress for the nervous system to handle and process.
Retained reflexes can cause developmental delays that may lead to disorders such as:
Here are some of the reasons why babies may have retained reflexes beyond the first year of life:
- Low birth weight
- Traumatic birth
- C-section birth
- Required resuscitation
- Blue baby
- Distorted skull
- Prolonged jaundice
- Feeding issues during first six months of life
- Illness with high fever
- Delirium or convulsions in the first 18 months of life
- Adverse reactions to toxins
- History of recurring ear, nose and throat infections
- Severe allergic reactions
What Your Doctor May Tell You about Retained Reflexes
Your child’s pediatrician will likely do a routine assessment on reflexes present in your newborn child. However, more than likely, the pediatrician will not routinely do an assessment to ascertain if these reflexes have integrated sometime within the first year of your baby’s life.
Neuro-motor immaturity, which is another way of describing retained primitive reflexes, is one of the most prevalent issues in children with learning disabilities and developmental delays. American medical literature only recognizes neuro-motor immaturity in cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury or diseases that affect motor skills such as Alzheimer’s but not in infants and children with developmental delays.
Infants and children with retained primitive reflexes present with many sensory integration symptoms. Most pediatricians are skeptical about recommending occupational therapy with sensory integration to help integrate retained reflexes because they consider sensory integration therapy to be controversial and questionable as to its effectiveness.
In addition, your child’s pediatricians may also believe that retained reflexes are really sensory processing issues which he or she might believe are just symptoms of another underlying developmental problem. Your child’s pediatrician will likely prefer to diagnose the other underlying disorders that share the symptoms that are presented by retrain reflexes rather than address retained reflexes themselves as what your child is experiencing.
Therefore, it is more than likely that your child’s pediatrician will not recognize retained reflexes but rather the sensory symptoms of the retained reflexes as part of a particular developmental disorder.
Another Way to Think about Retained Reflexes
Retained reflexes are a sign of neurodevelopmental damage caused by the above-mentioned traumas. In some cases, this damage is similar to what happens to an adult who has had a stroke, so think of rehabilitating your child in a similar fashion, although with the added complexity of the damage happening at a time of profound development in the brain and nervous system.
Your child may have some or many of the developmental delays found in retained primitive reflexes such as:
- Poor coordination
- Lack of balance
- Poor sensory perceptions
- Poor manual dexterity
- Poor fine motor skills
- Sleep issues
- Dysregulated immune system
- Low energy levels
- Poor impulse control
- Lack of hand eye coordination
- Toe walking
- Low muscle tone
- Asymmetrical gait
- Midline-crossing difficulties
- Poor short-term memory
- Poor concentration
- Panic attacks
- Speech problems
- Articulation problems
- Impaired social learning
- Impaired emotional learning
- Impaired intellectual learning
Integrating Retained Reflexes
One of the most effective ways of integrating retained primitive reflexes is to do a reflex-inhibition program, which can help to extinguish or inhibit the primitive reflexes and integrate many of the sensory-like symptoms that may be preventing your child from making improvement. The goal of this program is to activate as many of the neurological connections and functions as possible, so that your child will begin to become more age appropriate as they integrate their retained primitive reflexes. Your child can then make much more physical and academic progress in many of the areas where he or she has delays.
A therapeutic reflex integration program can also be extremely helpful if your child developed retained reflexes from the first year of life.
If your child’s development was interrupted such as those on the autism spectrum, then a reflex intervention program would be appropriate.
Parents may also learn how to work with their children and integrate reflex exercises and techniques.
The Sveltlana Masgutova Educational Institute offers an enormous amount of material on the role of reflexes in learning and behavior and also teaches parents how to work with their children.
In addition to treating the retained primitive reflexes with therapeutic interventions, it would be helpful to address many of your child’s biomedical issues such as:
- Microbiome imbalance
- Organ stress
- Food allergies and intolerances
- Fatty acid deficiencies
- Oxidative stress
- Detoxification of pathogens
It would also be helpful to include some other additional therapies that can enhance the improvement and progress of your child’s developmental delays. You can learn more about reflex integration here.
Retained Reflexes Checklist to Start
Make dietary changes:
- Eat whole foods
- Buy organic foods
- Remove all GMO foods
- Remove all fast and processed foods
- Remove all foods with:
- Artificial colors
- Artificial ingredients
- With an elimination diet, remove potentially inflammatory foods such as:
- Strictly limit:
- Refined salt
- Refined carbohydrates
- Consider implementing a low glutamate diet and/or the Feingold diet
Include plenty of good quality fats, such as:
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Wild salmon
- Organic chicken
- Organic turkey
- Grass-fed ghee
- Pasture-raised eggs
- Grass-fed beef
- Essential fatty acids from:
- Cod liver oil
- Hemp seeds
- Flax seeds
- Evening primrose oil
- Borage oil
- Walnut oil
Remove vegetable oils such as:
Include plenty of high-quality proteins with every meal, such as:
- Pasture-raised eggs and chicken
- Grass-fed beef
- Wild-caught fish
Heal the gut with special diets such as:
- GAPS (Gut And Psychology Syndrome) diet
- Paleo diet
- GF/CF (gluten-free/casein-free) diet
- Body Ecology Diet
- Modified Atkins Diet (replaces the Ketogenic diet)
Learn more about healing diets and foods.
Clean up your environment:
Have you identified and removed possible environmental triggers, such as mold, dust, pet dander, and electromagnetic fields (EMFs)?
Have you identified and removed possible toxic exposures in the home from purchased products, such as detergents, soaps, lotions, and other cleaning and personal care products?
- Remove animals (both live and stuffed!)
- Remove carpets
- Use non-toxic cleaners
- Use non-toxic building materials
- Green your home
Ask your pediatrician to run some laboratory tests for:
- Possible food sensitivities and allergies
- Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) IgG, IgA, IgE and IgM
- Nutritional deficiencies in vitamins and minerals. The NutrEval by Genova Diagnostics Labs covers the following areas:
- Cellular energy
- Mitochondrial metabolism
- Neurotransmitter metabolism
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Toxin exposure
- Detoxification need
- Bacterial and yeast overgrowth
- Gluten and casein sensitivities
- Organic acids: The organic acid test by Great Plains Laboratory for:
- Yeast overgrowth (Candida)
- Other microbial infections
- Comprehensive Stool Analysis by Genova Diagnostic Labs to identify:
- Altered gastrointestinal function
- Bacterial/fungal overgrowth
- Chronic dysbiosis
- Neurotransmitters: Neurorelief (Neurosciences Laboratory) is a specialty lab that tests neurotransmitters to determine chemical imbalances in the brain
Add fermented foods and probiotics daily:
These will keep the gastrointestinal system and microbiome healthy and strong which in turn will keep the immune system strong.
- Eat kefir yogurts
- Eat fermented vegetables
- Eat umeboshi plums (very alkalizing)
- Eat miso soup, if soy is tolerated
Some good probiotics are:
- Gut Pro
- Dr. Ohirra’s Live Cultured Probiotics
- Garden of Life
- Klaire Labs
Use herbs, essential oils and natural supplements with your practitioner’s guidance:
- Neuromins DHA
- MCT coconut oil
- Frankincense oil
- Trace minerals
- Methylcobalamin B12
- Folinic acid or 5MTHF
- Cognitive amino acids
- Lavender oil
- Essential fatty acid
- Grapeseed extract
- Gotu kola
- Gingko biloba
- Dimethylglycine (DMG)
- Vitamin D3
- N-acetylcysteine (NAC): helps with detoxification process and healing of the gastrointestinal tract
- MSM transdermal cream
- Epsom salts bath
Use digestive aids with your practitioner’s guidance:
- Betaine hydrochloric acid
- Digestive enzymes with DPP-IV for gluten and casein intolerances
- Proteolytic enzymes
See a sensory-integration occupational therapist:
These OTs address a variety of sensory issues with a child using hands-on equipment. This type of therapy calms down the nervous system to help integrate the senses and retained reflexes.
See a chiropractor:
A chiropractor can perform spinal cord adjustments, which can improve communication in the nervous system.
See a craniosacral practitioner:
Craniosacral therapy can reestablish central nervous system functioning.
See a behavioral/developmental optometrist:
A developmental optometrist can check for convergence and tracking problems with your child’s vision. He or she can correct these issues with vision therapy, lens and prisms. Doing so can improve hand-eye coordination and school performance.
Find a therapist doing Brain Gym:
A Brain Gym practitioner can have your child do exercises for sensorimotor coordination, self-calming and self-management.
See a chiropractic neurologist at a Brain Balance Center:
The Brain Balance program can help balance the right and left brain hemispheres and make neural connections to extinguish primitive reflexes.
See a neurofeedback practitioner:
Neurofeedback is approved as a level-one intervention by the American Academy of Pediatrics for ADD and ADHD, which are learning disabilities. Even if your child doesn’t have ADD or ADHD, they may still benefit from neurofeedback.
Find a practitioner that can perform a QEEG (quantitative electroencephalograph) brain map first so you can understand how your child’s brain works.
See a homeopath or naturopath:
These practitioners can diagnose and treat gastrointestinal disorders naturally so that the child’s immune, sensory, neurological and nervous systems develop without being compromised.
Still Looking for Answers?
Sources & References
Zaigham, M., et al. Prelabour caesarean section and neurodevelopmental outcome at 4 and 12 months of age: an observational study. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. 2020 (20)564.
Blomberg MD, Harald and Dempsey, Moira. Movements That Heal, Rhythmic Movement Training and Primitive Reflex Integration. Independenly published, 2011.
Brandes, Bonnie. The Symphony of Reflexes: Interventions for Human Development, Autism, ADHD, CP, and Other Neurological Disorders. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.
Goddard Blythe, Sally. The Well Balanced Child: Movement and Early Learning. Hawthorn Press, 2005.
Goddard, Sally. Reflexes, Learning and Behavior, A Window Into the Child’s Mind. Fern Ridge Press, 2005.