In this article, I’m going to look at the basics of some of the primitive reflexes that I test for. This post looks at the Fear Paralysis Reflex (FPR), Moro Reflex and Babkin reflex, and how these impact on our emotional and mental health.
I would also like to mention here that “Highly Sensitive People” tend to have ALL these reflexes active, as do those with autism spectrum conditions, ADHD/ADD, anxiety, depression and dyspraxia. I also want to add that I do not work with a person’s medical diagnosis – I purely look at their combination of reflexes and how this affects behaviour and emotions.
These particular reflexes must be matured and integrated for a person to feel safe in the world. They are completely involuntary, governed by the brainstem. When babies are born, their little movements are not random… they are all reflexive, not voluntary, controlled movement.
In order for a baby to develop and move to the next little milestone, they involuntarily repeat these movement patterns over and over again until neural pathways are myelinated, at which point, the reflex matures and they move onto the next set of movement patterns.
Fear Paralysis Reflex (FPR)
As soon as we are conceived, dividing cells react to stress by shrinking and tensing. This cellular reaction goes on to become the fear paralysis reflex at around five weeks post conception. The fear paralysis reflex is at its peak at around nine weeks post conception and should merge with the emerging Moro reflex and integrate before thirty-two weeks.
If the fear paralysis reflex does not integrate fully, it will prevent other primitive and postural reflexes from emerging and integrating effectively.
Someone with an active FPR will not feel safe outside their close, familiar surroundings.
Characteristics of a retained FPR reflex are:
- Finds it hard to express opinions
- Does not like to draw attention to self
- Issues with eye contact – either can’t make appropriate eye contact, or will stare inappropriately
- Prefers to withdraw from social situations
- Tactile defensiveness
- Selective mutism
- Panic attacks and anxiety
- Inflexible outlook
- Cannot take criticism
- Has to always be right
- Demand avoidant
If you think you or your child has an active FPR reflex, it is well worth seeking the help of a professional reflex integration therapist, as it may block later primitive and postural reflexes from emerging and integrating properly, so it is wise to have some help to unravel the puzzle,
It is worth mentioning that some people need to work with FPR, Babkin and Moro for many months or even years in order to integrate them.
Further reading on the FPR reflex
If you would like to read more about FPR and anxiety, I’ve written the blog post Why baby reflexes may be at the root of your anxiety. For how FPR affects sleep, you might find Sleep, anxiety, night terrors – and neuroscience useful. For opinion on social media and working in isolation, you might find Connection, isolation, social media, mental health and primitive reflexes useful.
At around nine weeks of age, the Moro reflex starts to emerge. It is responsible for filling a baby’s lungs with air when it is first born. It should mature and become the Strauss (startle) reflex at around 4-6 months post birth.
If a baby requires artificial resuscitation at birth, the Moro reflex will not have a chance to emerge properly.
If the Moro reflex remains in the system. a person will not have a well-modulated fight or flight response.
Characteristics of a retained Moro reflex are:
- Sensory processing difficulties, shutting off sensory input that they cannot handle (overwhelm)
- Problems socialising with peers
- Over-reactions, anxiety and emotional outbursts
- Easily tired
- Finds it hard to switch off
- Argumentative and has to have the last word
If you think you may have an active Moro and/or FPR reflex, it is well worth going for an assessment if you can, as a qualified therapist will be able to help you work through a programme and learn movements that will help you manage yourself for life.
It is also worth mentioning that in order to develop and mature postural reflexes effectively, you will need to work with FPR and Moro first if they are present. This is because a person needs well-functioning connections between the brainstem and higher brain levels in order to progress with the postural reflexes.
Things you can do for an active Moro reflex:
Snow angel movements
Balance on a Bosu ball/air cushion
Row, row, row your boat
Kneel on a skateboard and scoot around
Further reading on the Moro reflex
For an insight into the Moro reflex, you may enjoy reading my article Why are some people just so ANGRY? You may also find my blog post on Sensory Processing Disorder useful. Although it does not specifically mention Moro, as I have explained it is the Moro reflex that is at the root of sensory modulation.
The Babkin reflex emerges at around 13 weeks in utero and should mature and integrate to become the Bonding reflex by around four months post birth. It plays a major role in bonding and attachment.
In order for the Babkin to integrate, the clinging part of the Moro reflex must integrate too. Skin contact and cuddles with the mother, eye contact, movement (being carried and rocked) and proper nourishment are all essential to help a Babkin reflex integrate in a timely manner in an infant.
Characteristics of a retained Babkin reflex are:
- Speech difficulties (articulation)
- Makes movements with mouth when concentrating or drawing
- Prone to dribbling
- Cannot read body language effectively
- Problems with pencil grip (too firm/too slack)
- May appear to be thick skinned when talking to others, but over-sensitive when people are talking about them
- Does not like being cuddled/unaffectionate
- Eye contact issues
- Difficulty with peer relationships
- Hoarders/compulsive collectors/kleptomaniacs
- Lies about the obvious
- Appears detached, cold and unfeeling
- Trust issues with self and others
Things you can do for an active Babkin reflex:
- Press-ups against a wall
- Winding wool around fingers
- Picking marbles out of Theraputty
- Scrunching paper as fast as possible
Further reading on the Babkin reflex
My review of Rocketman entitled Rocketman: alcoholism, drug addiction and eating disorders is about the Babkin reflex.
Be patient when attempting to integrate these reflexes with a therapist.
Reflexes can take a while to integrate, and you may see “regressive” behaviours as this starts to happen. Or you may see nothing at all, and question whether your hard work is doing anything.
One problem that I see is that people with various combinations of these reflexes tend to think it’s not going to work, and therefore avoid doing the movements I give them, making every excuse under the sun. I’ve even known of people who see a neuro-developmental therapist, don’t do the movements consistently and then tell everyone it doesn’t work…