What is the Spinal Galant Reflex?

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC September 01, 2021

What is the Spinal Galant Reflex?

The Spinal Galant Reflex is one of many infant primitive reflexes - an involuntary movement pattern that we are all born with. The Spinal Galant is believed to play an important role in the natural birthing process. During labor, contractions stimulate the lumbar region (the lower back), which causes movement in the hips, thus helping the baby move down the birth canal. Additionally, “it also contributes to the development of the range of movements of the hips needed for crawling and walking.” 

The Spinal Galant is triggered by stimuli to the back. This can be done by stroking down one side of the spine (while the infant is laying on their stomach), facilitating hip movement away from the stimuli. This can also be done while the child is in quadruped (on all fours). This reflex also plays a role in developing the vestibular system and is connected to the Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR), which also plays a role in the birth process. Urination is also frequently associated with the Spinal Galant Reflex. 

The Spinal Galant is developed in utero at approximately 20 weeks. It should be fully developed at birth and should integrate (go away) between 3-9 months of age.

How does the Spinal Galant Reflex integrate?

Although there is no one scientific method to ensure full primitive reflex integration, there are some things to consider when discussing the integration of the Spinal Galant.

Infant sensory input

Let’s talk about sensory integration. By providing an infant with different types of sensory stimulation, new neural pathways will be developed in the brain, thus stimulating new movement and cognitive development. An article on sensory integration discussed that the engagement in sensorimotor activities promoted adaptive behaviors via neuroplastic changes - simply put, by experiencing different sensory activities, our brains can change and thus promote new behaviors!

So, what types of sensory activities should you provide to your newborn infant? Keep it simple!

  • Natural movement is always a fantastic option - instead of carrying your newborn in a carrier or stroller, use a wrap to carry your newborn on your body in order to provide more natural movement.
  • Tummy time. We’ve all heard it over and over again - tummy time is a must! A systematic review from 2020 identified that tummy time was positively associated with gross motor and total development. But how do you start tummy time with a newborn? Simply laying your newborn on your chest, on their tummy, is a great place to start. Then incorporating tummy time into everyday waking play will establish a routine and improve tolerance in the long run.
  • A variety of sights, sounds, smells, and tactile experiences. The more variety and the more frequent, the better!
  • Provide stimulation and movement opportunities that promote hip movements, especially as your infant begins to move into a crawling position.

Because every newborn is different and every experience is different, there’s no one way to guarantee that the Spinal Galant reflex will be successfully integrated by nine months of age. However, by using the above strategies, you can feel more confident that your baby is getting the sensory experiences necessary for potential primitive reflex integration.

 

What factors can contribute to an unintegrated Spinal Galant?

study looking at the persistence of primitive reflexes and associated problems in children identified these potential factors for unintegrated primitive reflexes, including the Spinal Galant:

  • Stress during pregnancy
  • Substance abuse during pregnancy
  • Caesarean section birth
  • Brain damage during labor
  • Premature and low birth weight
  • Significant illness during the first year of life
  • Insufficient stimulation and tummy positioning
  • Lack of free movement time on the floor
  • Stressful environment
  • Not enough nourishment/insufficient weight gain

Additionally, if a child has successfully integrated their primitive reflexes, a sudden or chronic bout of trauma, stress or injury can re-activate these reflexes.

While there is no guarantee for reflex integration, there are contributing factors to consider if your child has an unintegrated Spinal Galant reflex.

 

What an unintegrated Spinal Galant reflex looks like

Because the Spinal Galant is directly related to the vestibular system and consists of a physical reaction, it directly impacts movement, balance, muscle tone, and coordination. As stated earlier, it also facilitates urination when stimulated.

Symptoms related to an unintegrated Spinal Galant in older children are:

  • Excessive fidgeting
  • Bedwetting beyond the age of 5 years
  • Hypersensitivity to clothing and tactile input
  • Challenges with sustained attention
  • Potential for scoliosis and poor posture
  • If retained on one side more than the other, it can affect:
    • Motor skills such as rolling and crawling
    • Gait / walking patterns
  • Dyslexia

One Way to Assess Retained Palmar Grasp Reflex


What can I do if my child has an unintegrated Spinal Galant reflex?

If your child exhibits any of the above symptoms/challenges, the first step will be to talk with your pediatrician. Discuss your concerns. If your pediatrician is familiar with primitive reflex integration, they may already have a plan of action ready. If your pediatrician is unfamiliar with primitive reflex integration, feel free to share what you've learned! If you ever feel uncomfortable or that your concerns are being pushed aside don’t be afraid to seek out a new pediatrician.

Many Occupational Therapists (OT) are trained in primitive reflex integration techniques. Seek one out! Talk with friends and family members to see if they know anyone specific. Use Facebook groups and Instagram to find someone who has training. Physical Therapists (PT), craniosacral therapists, and chiropractors may also know of primitive reflex integration. It can take some time to locate the right professional, so don’t give up!

Meanwhile, there are some different exercises and play activities that you can incorporate into your child’s daily routine that can help promote the integration of the Spinal Galant.

For babies, decreasing the amount of waking time spent in containers is the best way to integrate the Spinal Galant reflex. When baby is awake, provide natural movement activities and as much tummy time as possible.

If your child is young, under three years old, focus on developmental movements:

  • Tummy time - placing toys and motivating items to both sides to promote turning in both directions.
  • Pre-crawling and crawling - provide motivating objects in all directions to promote rotation to both sides.
  • Rolling - be sure your child is rolling in both directions, not just one direction every time.
  • Try different animal crawls- worm crawl, snake crawl, etc. Be creative!

If your child is older, you can still focus on the same developmental movements and increase the challenges, as well as try some other activities.

  • Snow angels. You don’t need snow; you just need a flat surface to lay on! Try completing them in different ways: slowly; with eyes closed; just arms; just legs; left arm and right leg; right arm and left leg; etc.
  • Vibration. Grab a vibrating massager (Homedics makes great ones!) and provide vibration to different body parts - arms, legs, etc. - but specifically the back. If the Spinal Galant is present, the back will be sensitive, so start small and slow.

If your child is struggling with some of the signs/symptoms associated with an unintegrated Spinal Galant reflex, try some of these strategies:

  • Fidgeting and poor attention:
    • This is often due to stimulation to the back while seated in a chair, so try different seating options - turn the chair around, try sitting on a ball or a t-stool.
    • More heavy work. Proprioceptive input is calming to the nervous system, so complete 5-10 minutes of heavy work activities prior to sitting down for a focused task.
    • Try compression clothing - instead of having a shirt or pants that “tickle” the back and stimulate the reflex, try tight compression clothing that won’t rub or move.
  • Bedwetting:
    • If the Spinal Galant is present, stimulation to the back may be causing uncontrollable bedwetting at night.
    • Decrease the amount of liquids before bed.
    • Change what your child sleeps in, attempting to decrease clothing that moves against the back.
  • Hypersensitive to tactile input:

 

One last note

As you continue on your path through primitive reflex integration, keep in mind that your child is unique, and there's nothing wrong with them! Even if they have an unintegrated Spinal Galant reflex and seem to be struggling more than other children, your job is to help guide them along the way and provide as much support as possible.

You and your child are doing the best you can with what you have, so keep researching and keep trying new things until you find what works. Even then, keep searching because what works now might not work forever, especially as your child grows and develops through different seasons of life!

 

Extra Resources on The Spinal Galant Reflex

Do you like to listen to your information? Make sure to listen to our podcast episode #103 which we dive deep on the Spinal Galant Reflex

Want to learn all about Retained Primitive Reflexes? Be sure to check out our Primitive Reflex Integration Training on Harkla.co!

 

Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC
Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC

Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC and Jessica Hill, COTA/L both Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA). They have been working with children for over 6 years in outpatient settings. Rachel and Jessica specialize in creating easy-to-digest, actionable content that families can use to help their child's progress at home. Rachel and Jessica are the in-house experts, content creators, and podcast hosts at Harkla! To learn more about Rachel and Jessica, visit the Harkla About Us Page. Make sure to listen to their weekly podcast, All Things Sensory by Harkla for actionable, fun advice on child development.


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