Remember back to the day your child was born. You probably noticed when you’d stroke their cheek that they would turn their head and open their mouth (rooting reflex). Or the first time they wrapped those tiny little fingers around yours? That’s the Palmar Reflex. Maybe you stroked the bottom of their foot, and noticed their big toe would extend upward and the rest of their toes would spread (Babinski reflex).
We’re closing our primitive reflex blog series by taking a look at the Tactile Primitive Reflexes – which include the three we’ve mentioned, as well as the suck/swallow and the Spinal Galant reflex. Let’s take a look at each one!
One of the very first things a baby will do after delivery is nurse from his or her mother. What many may not realize is that – at the day of arrival – the child has been practicing for this moment for weeks! A light touch to the cheek and the rooting reflex is stimulated. At that moment, the mouth opens and the tongue elongates and the child is looking for food.
This reflex emerges between 24-28 weeks in utero, is fully developed by birth, and should be inhibited by 3-4 months old.
A child with a retained rooting reflex may exhibit hypersensitivity around the mouth, difficulty chewing certain types of foods and dribbling, speech/articulation difficulties due to poor fine muscle control of the internal and external mouth area.
Suck and Swallow Reflex
The rooting reflex, which allows the baby to find where the food is elicits the suck and swallow reflex at the moment where the roof of the mouth and the nipple touch. That moment of stimulus from the nipple elicits the suck and swallow reflex allowing for feeding. As crucial as it is for feeding, this complex suck and swallow reflex is necessary for much more! The combination of suckling, swallowing, and breathing is a multi-sensory ability that affects one’s speech as they develop!
The suck and swallow reflexes begin working together around 24-34 weeks in utero and should be inhibited by 3-4 months old.
If this is retained some common signs would be: sucking on fingers, thumbs, and clothes (to seek oral stimulation); incorrect development of the palate; poor muscular control of the mouth leading to speech and articulation challenges; and retained links between the hand and mouth movement (i.e. while writing there is movement of the mouth).
When my children were newborns, this was my favorite reflex! I thought my baby would never let go of my finger and we could stay in that moment forever. The Palmar Reflex emerges around 11 weeks in utero and is fully present at birth. This reflex helps the baby to find protection by “grabbing” onto their caregiver. This Palmar Reflex is also associated with the suck and swallow reflex in that they elicit one another. As much as I loved this reflex when my child was a newborn, I did not enjoy it so much around 3-6 months when this reflex becomes inhibited. Why? Because this is the time when your child begins dropping everything. For my children, it was the joy of dropping every bite of their food off their tray for the dog to enjoy!
The effects of a retained Palmar Reflex could include the following: poor fine motor skills and manual dexterity, lack of hand/mouth separation, and hypersensitivity to touch of the palms.
The Babinski reflex is stimulated when the bottom of a babies foot is stroked and the large toe extends upward and the other toes fan out. Whereas, if the Babinski reflex is absent all the toes will point down (flex) when the stimulation to the sole of the foot is given.
The Babinski reflex is one that is normal to have retained longer than most reflexes, up to 2 years of age. Past this time, the presence of the Babinski reflex is most often a sign of dysfunction within the central nervous system.
Spinal Galant Reflex
Lastly, the Spinal Galant reflex, may be less familiar to you but it is one that is often retained in children. As an Occupational Therapist, I often hear from parents that their child (who is older than 5 years) is still wetting the bed. When I hear this, I often wonder if it could be a retained Spinal Galant reflex. The Spinal Galant emerges at 20 weeks in utero, is fully present at birth, and is inhibited by 3-9 months of age. This reflex is purposeful in helping the baby make his way down the birth canal during delivery.
If retained, you may notice that the child acts like he has “ants in his pants.”
Is your child always wiggly and fidgeting? Do they have poor short term memory, bedwetting, concentration, and/or poor posture?
If yes, those signs may point toward a retained Spinal Galant reflex!
God has designed the body in such an incredible way. With a few of the right exercises over time, you can actually re-wire your child’s body and brain and inhibit these reflexes! How amazing is that?!
After reading this series of blogs on primitive reflexes, if you are you concerned your child may have some retained reflexes, please give me a call! Let’s set-up a FREE 5-10 minute screening! A screening will let you know if a full occupational therapy evaluation is warranted! So why wait?!
-Christiana Cooper, OTR/L
Goddard S. Reflexes, Learning, and Behavior: A Window Into the Child’s Mind. Fern Ridge Pres. 2005., ed 2.
NeuroRestart. Primitive Reflexes. (2018). Retrieved from http://www.neurorestart.co.uk/primitive-reflexes/