Rooting Reflex

Original Editor - Muskan Rastogi

Top Contributors - Muskan Rastogi and Uchechukwu Chukwuemeka  

Introduction[edit | edit source]

The rooting reflex is an innate response of the head due to the stimulation of the face, mouth, or cheek by touching/stroking (the head is turned towards the side of the stimulus).[1] It is a brainstem mediated primitive motor reflex also called the frontal release reflex.

This reflex has also been observed in the apes and other mammals.[1]

The presence of the Rooting reflex has also been linked to altriciality-meaning that the newborns are unable to feed themselves (unable to source for food) with the help of locomotion. Therefore in response, the caregiver feeds the young one taking the reflex as a cue.[2]

Stimulus[edit | edit source]

The reflex commences when the corner of an infant’s mouth is stimulated by touching/stroking. [3]

Response[edit | edit source]

The newborn will turn their head towards the stimulus(finger or nipple) and open the mouth wide with tongue thrusting (tongue sits too forward in the mouth).[3]

Rooting reflex muskan (2).jpg

Duration[edit | edit source]

The rooting reflex is present at birth (around 28 weeks of gestation) and disintegrates about 4 to 6 months (until the frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex matures.)[3]


The healthcare provider strokes the corner of the mouth of the baby and the infant turns their head towards the stimulated side. For eg., if the right side of the corner of the mouth is stimulated then the baby turns its head to the right side.

Difference between Sucking and Rooting Reflex[edit | edit source]

  • It's critical to differentiate between the rooting reflex and the sucking reflex, as the latter is also involved in the nourishment intake of the infant. [5]
  • The major difference in both reflexes is that the rooting reflex occurs when the corner of a baby’s mouth is stimulated, while the sucking reflex initiates when the roof of their mouth is stimulated.[5]
  • The sucking reflex is usually observed around 30 to 35 weeks and is in charge of the regulation of breathing with the swallowing mechanism, which starts to emerge around 37 weeks[5]

Clinical Significance[edit | edit source]

  • The reflex is impertinent for the survival and growth of the babies, as it helps the newborn find the origin of food (either nipple or bottle) and also initiates breastfeeding.[6]
  • If the rooting reflex is preserved beyond the disintegration time, the infant may have excessive salivation and a tongue that sits too forward in the mouth(tongue thrusting). The child will struggle to perform swallowing and chewing functions because of the dysfunctional tongue. Other clinical symptoms include hypotonic or hypertonic muscle tone, asymmetric posture and gait, and delayed developmental milestones.[7] [8][9]
  • The trigeminal cranial nerve , which helps in the sensation of the face, is also involved in the functioning of the rooting reflex. An infant with an intact trigeminal nerve will have a normal response but if the infant has nerve dysfunction, there is no response observed.[3]
  • Rooting reflexes are observed in adult patients with frontal lobe pathology. They often present with other primitive reflexes that are normally disintegrated due to maturation of the frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex. [3]
  • It's also considered a sign of hunger in babies.[6]
  • If the infant is forced-fed during crying then the rooting reflex might get disturbed.[10]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Kreutzer J. In F.-A.-S. Test, Kreutzer JS, DeLuca J, Caplan B. eds. Encyclopedia of clinical neuropsychology. New York, NY ; Heidelberg : Springer, 2011.
  2. Dunsworth HM, Warrener AG, Deacon T, Ellison PT, Pontzer H. Metabolic hypothesis for human altriciality. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2012 Sep 18;109(38):15212-6.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Yoo H, Mihaila DM. Rooting Reflex. InStatPearls [Internet] 2021 May 1. StatPearls Publishing.
  4. betapicts. Baby Rooting Reflex / Reaction. Available from
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Sohn M, Ahn Y, Lee S. Assessment of primitive reflexes in high-risk newborns. Journal of clinical medicine research. 2011 Dec;3(6):285.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Glodowski KR, Thompson RH, Martel L. The rooting reflex as an infant feeding cue. Journal of applied behavior analysis. 2019 Feb;52(1):17-27.
  7. Agarwal A, Verma I. Cerebral palsy in children: An overview. Journal of clinical orthopaedics and trauma. 2012 Dec 1;3(2):77-81.
  8. Panteliadis CP, Hagel C, Karch D, Heinemann K. Cerebral palsy: a lifelong challenge asks for early intervention. The open neurology journal. 2015;9:45.
  9. Chinello A, Di Gangi V, Valenza E. Persistent primary reflexes affect motor acts: Potential implications for autism spectrum disorder. Research in developmental disabilities. 2018 Dec 1;83:287-95.
  10. Widström AM, Thingström‐Paulsson J. The position of the tongue during rooting reflexes elicited in newborn infants before the first suckle. Acta paediatrica. 1993 Mar;82(3):281-3.