Rooting Reflex

What is the rooting reflex

In rooting reflex, one of the important infantile reflexes, the newborn reacts at the instant his cheeks are stroked, turning his head to that direction, pursing his lips and displaying sucking motions [1].

Rooting Reflex

Rooting Reflex

Rooting reflex test in newborns

While testing this reflex in a baby, the health care provider makes him lie on a soft padded bed and begins stroking his cheeks. The baby will react positively by turning his face in the direction of the doctor’s hand, opening his mouth to search for the nipple or food source [2].

The video given below is a perfect example of rooting reflex displayed by a newborn.

How long does rooting reflex last in babies

This primitive reflex is highly active in babies till the time they are three to four months of age, after which it gradually starts disappearing [4]. Some infants may continue to react to the stimulus on their cheeks for a few more months [3].

How does the rooting reflex function

The survival reflex also referred to as the search reflex, is perhaps nature’s way of helping babies to get to the nipple or bottle while feeding [5]. It is involuntary, initiating them to open their mouth whenever their cheeks are stroked or touched whether they are hungry or not. Sometimes, parents might mistake this gesture for hunger, trying to feed them even after their stomachs are full [6].

Absent rooting reflex

Rooting reflex may be absent in newborns if they are born prematurely or have some neurological disorders or CNS depression (due to ingestion of certain drugs by the mother during pregnancy) [7].

In studies conducted, high-risk neonates were given stimulations in the tissues surrounding their mouth to initiate the sucking, rooting and swallowing reflex. This experiment proved beneficial for newborns with feeding dysfunctionality, helping them to get the essential nutrients as well as lessen the need for intravenous or gavage feeding that comes with certain complications [15].

Retained rooting reflex

Retained rooting reflex may lead to the following symptoms:

  • Hypersensitivity in the mouth and lip region [8]
  • Displaying fussy behavior while eating (mainly solid foods) [10]
  • Frequent sucking of thumb [11]
  • Having trouble in chewing or swallowing [9]
  • Problem in speaking and articulating [8, 12]
  • Dribbling [9]

Retained rooting reflex in adults

Adults suffering from severe dementia may retain the rooting reflex [13]. Having an influence on hormones, correction of this reflex  may help in bringing the hormonal functions of the thyroid, adrenaline and pituitary gland to a normal state in adults and also in children [8, 11].

The rooting reflex helps the baby to get ready to suck. The hand-to-mouth reflex works in coordination with sucking and rooting, leading babies to suck their fingers and hands [2, 14].