Retained Neonatal Reflexes

A baby boy and a teddy bear sit on a plank balanced between 2 cliffs, enjoying the view

We have all experienced what a reflex is – an action or behavior that occurs without thinking.

We are born with a whole set of reflexes which become inactive as we grow. The reflexes we are born with are known as primitive reflexes as they originate from the primitive part of the brain. – The brainstem. Neonatal reflexes are reflexes that are active in a newborn baby, and are present to allow the initial functioning of the nervous system. They allow the baby to suck, grasp, crawl and walk, all things needed for survival & development in early months/ 1st year of life.

There are 70 known primary reflexes and as we grow and develop they are meant to integrate as the higher functioning brain (The Cortex) develops and takes over to create conscious thought, not just autonomic responses. If they do not integrate and are retained, a person’s natural ability and control may be prevented from developing further, leading to interference to the normal functioning of the nervous system later in life.

Birth trauma such as caesarian section, forceps or induction, chemical/toxic, environmental and emotional stress can contribute to an increased chance of the these reflexes being retained.

Have you ever noticed how a newborn baby grasps your finger when you place it in their palm. This is an example of a retained reflex know as the Palmar reflex. It should be present at birth and fully integrated by 2nd or 3rd month of life.

If this is retained the child often has poor handwriting but also finds it difficult to process their ideas and then write them down. In other words copying a word is easy but spelling it and writing it down proves very difficult and ‘messy’, which can be very frustrating for the child. The independent movement of the fingers tends to cause other muscles in the body to weaken. For this reason the child may also slump when sitting at the desk or playing piano.

The RNR technique is not just for children. Retained Neonatal Reflexes can present and hinder us at any age.

The same reflex in adults often presents with the patient saying “ I have a really sore back when I sit at my computer “ The typing requires independent movement of the fingers.

Some signs of retention in both children and adults include (but not confined to):

  • Hypersensitivity, allergies, asthma, digestive issues, depressed immune function/chronic illness
  • Social /learning difficulties, behavioral issues, anxiety/withdrawn, trouble sitting still, bed wetting after 5 years of age
  • Poor or delayed, fine or gross motor skills, poor hand eye co-ordination
  • Dexterity in hand writing, trouble holding a knife and fork
  • Sensory processing issues, (hearing, touch, balance/proprioceptive) speech articulation delays, poor reading skills
  • Toe walking, hyper/hypo muscle tone, and poor posture.

Correction of Retained Neonatal Reflexes

Keith Keen, a Sydney Chiropractor developed The RNR technique in the 1990’s. It is a safe, non-invasive, gentle technique using hand or finger pressure on specific points on the skull usually with synchronized breathing. A typical course of treatment for RNR’s is 12 to 15 visits and a follow up visit after 6 weeks. We leave at least a week between visits to allow the nervous system to do its work integrating the neonatal reflex.

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