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Dr. Nageena Akhtar at work

What Are Reflexes and Primitive Reflexes?

  • By Nageena


Reflexes are repetitive, involuntary movements in response to sensory stimuli. They emerge in utero, during the birth process, or during the first part of the infant’s life and have survival, protective, restorative, and postural purposes. Reflexes assist in the infant’s development; they are an important sign of brain and neurological development and development of the nervous system. Most reflexes are categorised as either intrauterine, primitive and postural.

The kinds of reflexes and what they are

Below you will find a brief introduction in the kinds of reflexes and how they are important.
If you are curious in how these reflexes match your own personal situation I advice you to download one of our checklists.

Primitive Reflexes

Primitive Reflexes are automated stereotypic movements directed from the brainstem and require no cortical processes (thinking). These are movement patterns babies are born with to respond to specific sensory stimulation.

Primitive reflexes develop during uterine life and are fully present usually by birth or shortly thereafter in normally developed full term infants. Primitive reflexes play a fundamental role in establishing head control, posture, sensory integration and the ability to move with stability and control. In addition, the primitive reflexes further stimulate the brain in order to improve attention and control of impulses, helping to diminish hyperactivity.

They assist in linking up the key neurological areas of the brain for emotional control and intellectual or academic pursuits.

These reflexes serve three primary functions:

  • 1. They aid babies to make their way through the birth canal
  • 2. They enable babies to survive the first few months of life
  • 3. They provide babies the ability to practice movement patterns which are required later in life.

The primitive reflexes integrate into postural reflexes, and this integration should be completed while the infant is still on the floor and before he learns to crawl and walk. For this reason, it is extremely important for babies to be able to move freely on the floor on their stomach and back.

Postural Reflexes

The postural or lifelong reflexes are necessary for our stability and balance in gravity, and they enable us to move automatically and with ease.
Development of postural reflexes is dependent upon function of the basal ganglia (i.e. part of the brain which works in cooperation with the motor cortex to control our motor activity).
Primitive reflexes are integrated into mature postural reflexes by the spontaneous rhythmic movements that an infant makes before he learns to crawl and eventually walk.
Postural reflexes help us establish balance, coordination and overall physical and emotional well-being.
Most of the postural reflexes are life-long and designed to ensure our survival, especially during stressful situations as we mature into adulthood. Achieving the developmental motor milestones may be an important basis for various aspects of later child development.