There is nothing quite like the feel of your baby’s firm grasp around your finger, and it often surprises new parents just how tightly a tiny infant can grab! And while having their tiny hand grasp yours is endearing and heartwarming, the action of grasping, at least initially, is entirely an innate reflex.
The grasp reflex is one of many reflexes your baby is born with, so when will your little one begin grasping on purpose? This article will cover the grasping reflex, when you can expect purposeful grasping to begin, reasons for concern, and how you can encourage your baby to grasp objects.
The Grasping Reflex
Your newborn comes equipped with several reflexes that are vital indicators of their neurological and physical development. Among these reflexes are the startle or Moro reflex, the rooting reflex, the sucking reflex, the stepping reflex, and the grasping reflex, also known as the Darwinian Reflex after famed naturalist Charles Darwin.
The grasping reflex should be present at birth, and your baby should outgrow it by six months of age. If your child does not outgrow the grasping reflex by half a year, it could indicate a neurological disorder.
A third name for the grasping reflex is the palmar grasp because touching your baby’s palm activates the reflex. To test your baby’s grasping reflex, gently stroke their palm with your finger. They will grasp on tightly – so tightly, in fact, you may need to use your other hand to pry their little fingers away! The grasping reflex is so strong you could almost lift your baby entirely by them holding on with both hands.
Your baby will engage in the grasping reflex anytime objects are placed in their palm, or their palm is stroked. Encourage siblings, grandparents, and other close friends and family to engage in the grasping reflex with your baby. Not only is the reflex important to your baby’s physical and neurological development, but it provides skin-to-skin contact, which is essential to their emotional development.
Around three months old, your baby will begin batting at objects of interest. Approximately three to four months is when purposeful reaching comes into play. However, even though your little one has begun reaching for objects, they can’t quite grab onto the objects of their desire.
As your baby goes through the motions of reaching and attempted grabbing, their hand-eye coordination will increase, and they are exercising the large muscle groups in the upper body.
4 to 8 Months
The next stage in your baby’s grasping development occurs around four months. As they gain control over their hand and arm muscles, they will begin picking up larger objects like soft blocks, rattles, and texturized balls.
Your baby may still exhibit the grasping reflex at this point; however, it should disappear around six months old.
As your baby continues to reach and grab objects over the next few months, their gross and fine motor skills will become more refined and controlled.
9 to 12 Months
Between nine to twelve months, your baby will be able to pick up smaller objects. As your baby becomes mobile and their fine motor control develops, it is essential to be wary of choking hazards in your home. Items such as loose buttons, paperclips, knobs, marbles, LEGOS, coins, etc., all present a danger to your curious grabber.
Get down on the floor at your child’s eye level and look around for anything that might be tempting. Children this age put nearly everything in their mouths as another way of tactile development. Therefore you should assume anything they can grab will end up in their mouth.
When to Worry
The grasping reflex should integrate or disappear around six months old. However, if your child is still exhibiting the grasping reflex after six months of age, it could be a sign of cerebral palsy or other central nervous disorders. Your pediatrician will check for signs of integration at your baby’s regular check-ups. Still, you should ask questions at any time you have questions or concerns about your baby’s development.
Ways to Encourage Grabbing
When our children are toddlers and preschoolers, we attempt to discourage grabbing from others, but we want to foster this vital muscle milestone in infancy!
Once your baby begins purposefully reaching for objects, around three or four months, encourage their desire to grab by placing objects of interest within reach. If you wear eyeglasses – watch out because they are often one of the first things an infant learns how to grab onto! Once your baby has begun grabbing, it is a good idea to put away those tempting necklaces and dangling earrings!
By six months old, your infant will have near 20/20 eyesight, but before then, you will need to place objects around twelve to eighteen inches away from your child to see them clearly.
Toys high in contrast, such as black and white, bold colors, or large patterns, will interest them most.
Younger babies, four to eight months, will be able to grasp onto larger objects and toys. As your baby’s finger and hand muscles develop, they will begin to grab onto smaller objects. You can encourage the development of their finger muscles and the pinscher grasp, crucial for handwriting and dressing themselves later, by serving them four or five Cheerios at a time as a snack.
The more tactile experiences you can offer your little one, the more their grabbing skills and cognitive development will thrive. Baby’s are curious creatures and use their hands as a primary means of exploration. So engage that curiosity by offering a variety of objects to touch, manipulate, and play with!