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Dr. Nageena Akhtar at work

What is the Moro Reflex?

  • By Nageena


When a baby is surprised or scared, for example by a sudden movement or a loud noise, the baby will startle, which means: extend neck and arms and breathe in, followed by flexing of spine and limbs and a loud cry.
This reflex will help the baby take the first breath when first born and is a way to communicate the need for assistance and help from mum.

This is a fight-flight reflex, a stress response, during which stress hormones are released into the blood stream. This will cause the heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure to increase, just as when an adult is stressed.
This reflex should integrate within the first few months of life and become the less severe reaction we as adults know as startle.

The symptoms of the moro reflex

This reflex should disappear between 2-4 months of age. If retained, the child/adult may be hypersensitive to other senses and may over-react to stimulation and be in constant ‘fight or flight’.
This will lead to over activity of the sympathetic nervous system and the Adrenal Glands.
Due to the constant demands on the adrenal glands, they may become fatigued and a child/person may suffer with allergies, asthma, depressed immune system, and chronic illnesses.

Other observable social/learning problems associated with a retained Moro reflex are

  • Insecurity
  • Poor adaptability and resistance to change
  • Often clings to familiarity
  • Attention problems; easily distracted; hyperactive movements and behavior
  • Hypersensitivity to light, sound, touch, smell; tendency to suffer from sensory overload
  • General anxiety; free floating anxiety
  • Motion sickness, poor balance and coordination
  • Easily angered or emotional outbursts
  • Difficulty sleeping or settling down to sleep
  • Poor stamina; cycles between hyperactivity and fatigue
  • Weakened immune system

Exercises to help the brain developing the Moro Reflex

Exercise One - Starfish

  • Moro starfish exercise

    Step one

    Ask the child to lie over a cushion or bean bag. Ask child to slowly straighten arms and legs out, lean backward, extend spine and neck (like a starfish) and take a small breath in.
  • Moro starfish exercise

    Step two

    Then ask the child to move into the foetal position while crossing the arms and legs, and breathing out. Hold position for 5 seconds.
  • Moro starfish exercise

    Step three

    Return slowly to starfish position with the spine and neck straightened taking a breath in again.
  • Moro starfish exercise

    Step four

    The next cross folding will be with the arms and legs the opposite side. Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat x 10 Twice daily

Exercise Two - Variations

  • Moro starfish exercise

    Step One

    The Moro Reflex can be done sitting on a chair or swiss ball depending on the ability of the child. If the child is unable to perform the movements independently, caregivers may be able to have child sit on their lap/chair and perform the movements for them until they are able to do them independently. You can also make the exercise more creative by handing them toys when arms are outstretched for them to put in a box which is situated on the floor, and vice versa.

Step Two

Moro starfish exercise

Step Three

Moro starfish exercise

Step Four

Moro starfish exercise