Primitive Reflexes

What are they?

You might have heard of primitive reflexes by other names for example neonatal reflexes, primary, infant and sometimes survival reflexes. Generally, these terms refer to the same group of automatic early movement responses easily recognised in the first few months after birth.

Why different names, you might ask? Simply, often the change of name is more often a differentiation in ‘treatment’ approach or protocol.  

There are three groups of reflexes, which support the transition of development through the early years of a child’s life: the Intra-uterine Reflexes, Primitive Reflexes and Postural Reflexes (more correctly postural responses) build establish postural control in gravity on foundations laid by the primitive reflexes.

Womb - World and Movement

Our earliest movements are innate and ignited after conception, and soon movements emerge in response to foetus’ sensory experience. For example, in womb world, touch, initially, would activate a defensive, withdrawal from experience of brushing face against the uterine wall and yet by birth through the emergence of the suck primitive reflex, the baby face and mouth would turn towards the sensation, in readiness to attach, suck and feed.

Journey of Primitive Reflexes

Primitive (infant/neonatal etc) Reflexes are a series of spontaneous, predictable movement (motor responses) patterns in response to various sensory signals. They are fully developed in utero by 40 weeks gestation. In womb world, the baby has practiced moving her arms, legs, hands, fingers in readiness to suck, turn, birth, crawl up their mother’s belly to seek her breast and feed. The primitive reflexes provide support in meeting baby’s needs in her early weeks and months.

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As infants, we respond to specific sensory input (turn of the head, touch, sound etc) with a predictive primitive reflex motor response. Touch a baby’s face it will turn to suck (seek -Rooting, sucking Reflexes), a shift of head position (loss of support of her head) or the sensation of water as you dip baby in her bath may see her arms and legs flex open, a gasp and then a cry, each response (Moro).

Growth and connections (neural pathways) are stimulated by the baby’s own sensory and movement (initially via primitive reflex patterns) experiences. Enriching sensory and movement experiences create more connections, and gradually the primitive reflex pattern give way (integrate) to postural stability, freedom of voluntary movement and higher cortical control.

The integration process occurs primarily through baby’s first six months, in tandem with developmental milestones, like head control, rolling and readiness to crawl


Each primitive reflex:

  • has its own specific predictable movement pattern;
  • its own “life cycle” and “use by date”;
  • provides a foundation for other reflexes and skills to build upon;
  • a role in birthing and/or our early needs being met
  • has a role in maturation of the Central Nervous System;
  • has influence on our physical and emotional development;

Passed their 'Use by Date'

There are many primitive reflexes, however, a number of key reflexes have links to developmental delays, learning or behaviour and emotional regulation challenges.

When primitive reflexes remain unintegrated, more effort is required to override these patterns – to sit in a chair against gravity, grip a pen tightly in an attempt to write fluidly, or by hypervigilant to sensory input, etc and there is less ability to attend to tasks, learn organise or relate to others.


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It’s just like having your tablet or mobile phone running all it’s apps all it once, memory and battery life, speed of processing all suffer. If you don’t know where your body starts or finishes, have a poor body map, it can be hard to comprehend where you are in relation to other objects or people, organise letters or work comfortably in midline tasks like reading, writing etc.

If this is a challenge their internal navigation system is always buffering or recalibrating, energy and time lost holding position rather than doing or completing tasks.

Primitive Reflex integration allows the nervous system to calm, attend and focus on skill achievement.

Movement Solutions for Primitive Reflexes

The EiB approach draws from both the developmental movements infants make such as Rhythmic Movement Training (RMT), Move to Learn, Brain Gym, acupressure, Brain activators and muscle reorganisation techniques to stablise a baby’s, child’s or adult’s neurological foundations for primitive reflex integration to occur.

By revisiting these foundations, the remnant reflexive patterns, with developmental movements, we can anchor the foundations, calm and stabilise the nervous system responses to sensory stimuli, improve attention, posture and their learning and living potential can flourish.


Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR)

TLR is most recognisable initially, as the foetal position. It’s role is very closely linked with the vestibular (balance system) & muscle tone.

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Though mainly integrated in the first 6 months, the TLR, is active to a lesser degree up ages 2-3, as baby transitions from floor to all fours and then finally walking.

When TLR is retained, challenges with attention, posture, balance, coordination, motion sickness are not uncommon.

  • Reading tracking
  • Delayed dominance hand eye and ea

Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR)

Think Fencer pose- as head turns to one side and arm and leg on side head turns to straighten while other side arm and leg pull in. 

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The link between touch sight and vision to establish hand eye coordination and visual perception skills.

If retained the head and arms automatically move together and can present with a variety of eye/head/hand and body organisation challenges such as:

  • Hand and eye move together not independently
  • Hand muscle group organisation – catching and throwing balls etc
  • Visual distracted by anything that catches gaze
  • Poor handwriting or pencil grip
  • Written work doesn’t match verbal skills
  • Crossing midline issues
  • Neck and shoulder tension
  • Reading tracking
  • Delayed dominance hand eye and ea

Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex

Before crawling can occur, a baby must reach, a key development stage, to separate use of top and bottom of body. This allows their head to move independently …

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This allows their head to move independently to legs; and refining near/far visual skills. If retained there can be a delay in crawling, having a kooky looking crawl, or never crawl on all fours which can lead to a variety of eye/head/hand and body organisation challengescessing issues)



Moro is triggered by a number of senses, sudden shift in head position, touch, sound, light – some babies activate Moro as put in their bath – head arms …

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head arms and legs move outwards, then a breath and cry. It is part of our primitive early warning system to stress and should integrate into a more modified pattern startle response.

Learn all about Primitive Reflexes

Workshops and Training

For more information about the primitive reflexes visit our Blog or Facebook page- Evolve into Being with Evonne Bennell or why not join one of Evonne’s seminars.


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Nature Care Wholistic and Medical Centre

114 Alexander St, Crows Nest NSW 2065
Crows Nest Bookings call  02 9966 8666

Warrawee Office

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Sessions available are:
Children and Babies  30 minutes
Adults 60-90 minutes

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0410 603 114

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