What stage is the rooting reflex in?

            Every loving couple would want to have their own child. It makes them happy knowing they can see a small version of themselves and often small children are adorable. Ensuring the child is going through the right growth and development stages is a responsibility that every parent needs to carry. A healthy child can have great chances to live a good life in future. In this DoctorOnCall’s article, we will be learning about rooting reflex.

            To understand what is a rooting reflex, what exactly is a reflex? Reflex is the involuntary movements or actions. Movements can be spontaneous and occur as part of a baby’s normal activity. Others are responses to certain actions. Some reflexes occur only in specific periods of development. Adults do have reflexes too. Healthcare providers check reflexes to evaluate the brain and nerve system. Rooting reflex is part of the reflex presented in the newborn stage.

            Rooting reflex is also known as the search reflex. This reflex starts when the corner of the baby’s mouth is stroked or touched. The baby will turn her or his head and open mouth to follow and root in the direction of the stroking. It helps babies to find the breast or bottle to start feeding. You can try to see this reflex yourself by simply stroking the cheek or mouth with your finger. You will see the baby turn his or her toward the hand. You may see the baby lower the bottom lip on the same side and the tongue moves towards the point of stimulation.

            Rooting reflex is present at birth (approximately 28-week gestation) and lasts about 4 to 6 months until the front brain (frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex) develops and suppresses primitive reflexes. As the frontal lobe matures, the primitive reflexes are replaced with voluntary motor functions. Primitive reflexes are involuntary motor responses originating in the brainstem that exist after birth in early child development which facilitate survival. There are a number of primitive reflexes apart from rooting reflex such as suck reflex, grasp reflex, stepping reflex, tonic neck reflex and Moro reflex. Each of these primitive reflexes disappears varies with age.

            Rooting reflex may be confused with sucking reflex. While the rooting reflex occurs when the corner of the baby’s mouth is stimulated, the sucking reflex starts when the roof of the baby’s mouth is stimulated. Sucking reflexes usually appear around 30 to 35 weeks. The sucking reflex is responsible for the coordination of breathing with swallowing, which starts to develop around 37 weeks.

            Rooting reflex typically disappears after 6 months. Persistence of rooting reflex beyond 6 months may suggest congenital cerebral injury or congenital cerebral palsy. Infant may have drooling and tongue that sits too forwards in the mouth. The child is likely to have difficulty swallowing and chewing due to a dysfunctional tongue. Other symptoms include muscle weakness (hypotonic) or stiff muscle (hypertonic), difficulty to stand and walk with delayed developmental milestones. Persistence of primitive reflexes in infancy may be an early sign of cognitive-developmental delay or autism. Patients with cerebral palsy are often associated with learning disability, seizures and visual or hearing impairment.

            The trigeminal cranial nerve is responsible for facial sensation and rooting reflex. Infants with dysfunction of this nerve may not have a rooting reflex. Congenital trigeminal anaesthesia is a rare condition that often shows absence of rooting reflex. Patients with this condition are at risk for eye injuries, specifically corneal epithelial injuries. This is because the trigeminal nerve is responsible for corneal blink reflex and reflex tearing which aids healing epithelial defects, does not work properly. With the inability to blink appropriately, infants are at higher risk for recurrent corneal epithelial injuries which increase risk for loss of vision.

            Ironically, rooting reflex can be observed in adult patients with frontal lobe damages. They will show other primitive reflexes that are normally suppressed by the frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex. Lesion of the frontal lobe can cause a person incapable of making decisions, have different personalities and unable to manage emotions. Frontal lobe disease can be caused by head trauma, frontal lobe tumour, dementia and multiple sclerosis.

            It can be concluded that the rooting reflex is present in the newborn stage. Rooting reflex is an important reflex in children alongside many other primitive reflexes. Healthcare professionals often check for rooting reflexes and many other reflexes to know if the brain and nervous system are working well. This reflex is present at birth and lasts until the baby reaches 4 to 6 months. Rooting reflex is crucial to initiate feeding and promote growth. Persistence of the reflex after 4 to 6 months may suggest several conditions such as autism and cerebral palsy. Parents are reminded to get regular visits and ensure their child is perfectly healthy to ensure the child reach appropriate growth and development. Regular visits can help detect diseases early on and prevent possible complications.

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