The Moro response is a fight/flight reflex. Many reflexes exist within newborns for a few months until their brain develops alternative responses. The Moro reflex functions as an ‘alarm’ reaction to sudden or intense stimuli.
What does the Moro reflex look like?
The Moro reflex presents physically as the twitching of limbs and extremities. A baby’s arm will flail upwards, their palms may stretch out, and fingers may extend. Legs may jerk as well.
The Moro reflex may cause your baby to twitch during sleep or jolt themselves awake. This is known as a ‘sleep start’. A sudden head movement when being placed down for sleep can trigger the Moro reflex, and your baby might wake up in distress.
Try cradling your little one as far down as you can on the way to the cot to minimize sudden movements. Swaddling may also be helpful to reduce the twitches of sleep-starts and may prevent a night-time waking or two. Always practice safe swaddling, remembering to ensure the wrap is not too tight around hips or shoulders. Adults experience sleep starts as well, but these are slightly different once the Moro reflex has been integrated.
‘Integration’ in terms of primitive reflexes refers to the process of a reflex becoming less strong and less frequent. As the brain develops, we become more capable of rational thought. Primitive, automatic reflexes fade in favor of more cognitive decision-making.
The Moro reflex is an evolutionary survival response, but it doesn’t last forever. If your child seems to have retained the Moro reflex past four months of age or you are otherwise concerned about your baby’s twitching, chat to your GP. There are many approaches to treating reflex retention, but chat to your GP and do some research into the best approach for your child should they retain the Moro reflex.
How can I know if my child has retained the Moro reflex?
Sensory stimulation triggers the Moro reflex. This can include:
- Bright light
- Sudden/loud noise
- Temperature change
- Movement of the head, such as when being placed down to sleep
If your child is six months or older and still reacts to these sorts of triggers, this could be a sign of reflex retention. As children grow up, other signs of retention include general anxiety, or hysterical reactions to change in environment.
Social skills can be impacted by this hypersensitivity to stimulus, making birthday parties or family dinners overwhelming. A child who has retained the Moro reflex may be hesitant, nervous, or angry about being in social situations.
The fight/flight response involves releasing adrenaline. If a child has retained the Moro reflex, their adrenal gland could be in overdrive, resulting in a feeling of being on edge.
An at-home test for Moro reflex in older children is to ask them to fall back into your arms. If their arms flail up, this could be the Moro reflex. This is not a diagnosis, so always follow up with a healthcare professional.