The Moro reflex begins to function 9-12 weeks after conception and is normally fully developed at birth. It is the baby’s alarm reflex.
As a newborn is incapable of rational thought, it is protected by an alarm reflex, triggered by excessive information to any of the baby’s senses. A loud noise, bright light, sudden rough touch, or sudden stimulation of the balance mechanism (dropping or tilting), turns on this reflex. When the response to threat is elicited, the baby replies with the startle reaction followed by the protective pose of the foetal position. It arches the head back, lifts the arms up and back, spreads the hands and takes in a gasp of air, then curls forwards, pulls its legs up, folds its arms across its chest and breathes out as in a cry for help. The first phase would help if the child were falling, while the second phase acts to help grasping as if to cling to the mother and to aid protection of the organ centres. By incorporating these two sequential patterned movements as the response to the stressor, it prepares the child’s body for whatever the stimulant was which triggered the body’s alarm.
If the Moro reflex persists beyond three to six months of age it becomes an automatic, uncontrollable overreaction, strong enough to override the newly operating decision making centres in the brain. This may see the child (or adult) react to stimulation of the senses as if the stimulus was too intense. This oversensitivity (light, sound, touch or any stress) can show as the child implements withdrawal strategies in order to remove themselves from situations that most children would find exciting. They typically are seen to have trouble socialising, accepting or giving affection, and uncomfortable with new or stimulating experiences.
Fight or flight responses prepare the body for fighting or running. It relies on a burst of adrenalin into the bloodstream to provoke the energy you need to immediately remove yourself from an alarming situation. The Moro reflex stimulates this blueprint and is associated with oversensitivity to sensory stimulation, and therefore this reflex may frequently take place inappropriately. In this case the child (or adult) may be an aggressive, over reactive, highly excitable person, unable to turn off and relax. These responses are purely for survival (to fight or to run). It can take place to the detriment of one’s perceptiveness and sensitivity for noting the subtleties of circumstances, thus the person may struggle with social functioning (which includes the schoolroom, playground, workplace). The child (or adult) may be very difficult to understand. They may be loving, perceptive and imaginative but at the same time immature, overreactive and aggressive.
The Moro reflex may be triggered many times a day putting a constant demand on the adrenal glands which can become fatigued. As these glands play an important role in immune system functions, a person may experience chronic illnesses and allergies when the adrenals are fatigued.
When an inappropriate Moro reflex begins to integrate after therapy, there may be changes in emotional state or behaviour. Emotional ups and downs are common as the nervous system and hormonal system adjust. This is a normal and very temporary phase of integration. With a retained Moro, the child may never have fully experienced the discovery phase of development (the “terrible twos”). As the Moro integrates, the child (or teenager or adult) has the opportunity to pass through this important developmental phase.