Reflex development begins at conception.
This is why, when working with children who have learning, attention, behavioural or emotional challenges, I ask questions about the pregnancy and birth.
When you know what to look for, a child’s current difficulties can often be traced back to early development. That of their life both inside and outside of the womb.
Unnerving isn’t it?
Just what we need as Mums…yet another thing to feel guilty about.
So here’s the deal. I know more than ever before about the impact of pregnancy and birth on a child’s later development. And in this blog post I’ll be sharing it with you.
However, my intent isn’t to make you feel horrid about the choices or circumstances of your past. I simply want you to be informed next time.
That said, here are four tips for supporting a baby’s reflex development during pregnancy and birth.
1. Reduce Stress
Modern life can be stressful, as too is growing a human being.
Telling pregnant Mums to relax is useless. Yet it’s important to know that whatever we eat, feel and are struggling with physically are all likely to impact on our baby at a cellular level.
It’s here that I need to explain the Fear Paralysis Reflex (FPR). The first primitive reflex to develop in utero, it’s one that is usually ‘used up’ or integrated by the time the baby is born. The trouble is, if there’s a significant amount of physical, chemical or emotional stress during the pregnancy, the FPR will remain. And if it does, the other reflexes often won’t integrate naturally through a baby’s movement milestones. (You can find out more about the FPR by reading my free eBook.)
This means that a baby who experiences a condition such as Preeclampsia or Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR) in utero is likely to keep their Fear Paralysis Reflex. When exposed to chemicals such as drugs, alcohol or even a prescription antidepressant, a child is likely to keep their Fear Paralysis Reflex. And if emotional stress is high, due to the death of a loved one or simply a constant state of anxiety, again the FPR may stay. Each baby’s tolerance differs slightly, yet these are common hiccups in many children’s early reflex development.
2. Be Active
When you’re growing a baby, it’s getting most of its movement input (vestibular stimulation) through you.
Move gently and often. The vestibular stimulation that your baby will be getting is crucial for the development of the brain, muscle tone, posture, balance and knowing which way is down.
Many of us have very inactive lifestyles today and it’s increasing the number of babies who are born with low muscle tone. So my advice here is to prioritise regular movement not only for your own health but also for that of your baby.
3. Vaginal Delivery
Primitive reflexes are typically mature by thirty-seven weeks gestation. Yet it’s the deep pressure of contractions and the even deeper pressure of moving through the birth canal which activates these reflexes fully for their role outside of the womb.
Having a cesarean is absolutely essential at times. However, it’s important to know that being born in this way does increase the likelihood of the child’s primitive reflexes staying longer than they’re welcome.
With the deep pressure missed, a baby born via cesarean will need plenty of freedom to move, tummy time and sensory exploration in the first year of life. These early experiences are of course recommended for all babies, however they are especially important following a cesarean. Their role is to firstly help the reflexes reach the stage of full maturity (as would usually happen at birth), before the process of integration can then begin.
Fast births are similar. The baby does experience the deep pressure of contractions but not for an extended period of time.
4. Avoid Birth Intervention
Have you heard the term, ‘cascade of intervention’? It refers to the flow on effect that women may unknowingly sign up to when the natural process of birth is manipulated. Those who are induced for example, are statistically more likely to have a cesarean. And likewise, those who have an epidural close to transition are more likely to need forceps or ventouse extraction to help push out their baby.
Forceps and ventouse are often necessary by the time they are used, with a mother who has tired or a baby who is in distress. However they do alter a baby’s structural alignment significantly, which in turn affects the brain-body connection. An Osteopath or Chiropractor can help with this soon after birth.
A Cesarean delivery, as already discussed, skips that deep pressure that a baby would usually get during birth. Recent research also points towards a correlation with reduced gut health and immunity, due to missing the ‘first meal’ of antibodies from the mother during the birth. ‘Microbirth’ is a powerful documentary which delves into this topic in much more detail.
Often birth intervention is not a choice. However sometimes that first decision is. Know your rights when you head into the birthing centre or labour ward, or take someone who does. It’s that which can make all of the difference.
Take a deep breath.
If your pregnancy or birth weren’t ideal, here’s a few simple ideas to minimise the impact:
Give your baby plenty of unrestricted movement time on the floor, including on the tummy. (Here are some practical ideas for getting started.)
Deep pressure massage is ideal for those who missed the deep pressure of a vagical delivery (or who zoomed out with a quick birth).
Get your baby’s structural alignment on track through the support of an osteopath or pediatric chiropractor. This is ideal following any birth but particularly a forceps or ventouse delivery.
Begin a simple home movement program that can be added into playtimes or nappy changes. Rhythmic Movement Training is a beautiful modality for this purpose.
Every situation is unique
My own pregnancies and births weren’t ideal -far from it. Knowing this information can’t guarantee everything will go smoothly. But it may help you in making informed decisions once your baby is safely in your arms.