When Do Babies Begin Reaching?

After nine months of being curled inside the womb, you’d expect that babies would start reaching and stretching the moment they are born. However, many infants’ initial movements are reflexes instead of purposeful reaches. 

As a new parent, you are probably curious about the different stages of your baby’s development, and intentional reaching and grabbing is a significant gross motor milestone!

This article takes a look at your baby’s natural reflexes, at what age they will begin reaching on purpose, and ways to encourage your baby’s gross motor development. 

Newborn Reflexes

When your baby is born, their body must learn to adjust to all the space they now have around them; initially, they will prefer the comfort of being held or swaddled because it simulates the feeling of the womb. 

Many of their movements will be involuntary reflexes in the first few days and weeks as they learn how to control and move their limbs. Reflexes are natural movements your baby will know how to do or that their body will automatically do in response to external stimuli.

Crying, sneezing, rooting, sucking, and swallowing are some of the reflexes your newborn will have. In fact, some parents can even see their little one sucking their thumb in utero on an ultrasound!

Stepping and grasping are two gross motor reflexes your baby will also have. If you hold newborns up under their arms, their legs will stretch out towards the ground. Of course, they can’t bear any weight yet, but the reflex to stand and walk is innate to humans.

Grasping is another reflex baby’s have from birth, and because our little ones can grasp onto things, we may mistakenly think they are purposefully reaching for or holding onto things from the getgo.

Purposeful Reaching

Your baby will continue to grasp onto anything placed in their palm for the first three months, and their limbs will move about in a somewhat jerky fashion. They will look very uncoordinated and random, but it is all a part of your baby’s gross muscle development. Over time, they will learn to control these movements and that their limbs go in a specific direction when they move their arm or leg. 

Around three to four months is when you can expect the grasping reflex to disappear, and you’ll begin to notice your little one purposefully reaching for objects of interest. 

The first objects your baby is going to begin reaching for are you, your partner, other close caregivers, and perhaps a pet or familiar toy. An infant’s eyesight is not fully developed, and they cannot see things far away until about six months of age. Even then, it is only about 20/25. Therefore, for your baby to reach for an object, it needs to be within their range of vision. When playing with your baby, hold toys roughly six to twelve inches from their face. 

When to Worry

Your baby will develop at its own pace, and it is important to remember that not all babies will hit the same milestones at the same exact time. However, if your baby is not reaching for your or familiar objects by four months old, it is worth mentioning to their pediatrician or an early childhood professional. 

How to Encourage Reaching

Your baby will learn how to reach naturally, but engaging with them and providing interesting stimuli will not just help their reaching skills develop. It will also strengthen other gross motor muscles, social, language, and cognitive skills. 

Offer Toys

While your baby is lying on a play mat or blanket, hold toys up for them to engage their eyesight and curiosity. Young infants see bold contrasting colors best, so black and white objects with large patterns will catch their attention.

Talk to your baby about the object and discuss its attributes, “Do you see the block Mommy has? It’s a square, and it is blue!” Not only will your voice draw their attention to the object, but you’ll be introducing them to new vocabulary. 

Tummy Time

Tummy time is another excellent way to encourage reaching. Most babies dislike tummy time at first, so you may need to build up their tolerance. However, tummy time is a crucial activity to your little one’s gross motor development! Tummy time helps strengthen their core, back, neck, leg, and arm muscles!

Lie your baby on their belly on a blanket on the floor and lie down opposite of them. Talk to them to encourage them to lift their head up; start with two to three minutes and work your way up to five or six minutes a few times per day.

Once your baby begins holding their neck up, place toys just out of reach to encourage them to reach and stretch out to grasp them.

Mobiles

The use of mobiles is another way to encourage your baby to reach; however, caution must be used when installing a mobile. If installing a mobile over the bed, make sure it is securely attached and remove it as soon as your baby can pull themselves to sit up. A mobile presents a risk of injury or strangulation if a child pulls it down on top of them.

You can also use mobiles or attach hanging toys on swings, car seats, and playmats, allowing you to supervise your infant better while in use. 

Most babies will reach for objects around three or four months. Still, if you have any concerns, it is always best o bring them up with your pediatrician or your child’s caregiver. Once your baby becomes mobile, their reaching will increase. Hence, it is essential you baby-proof your home and remove all dangerous objects from their reach.

Experiencing your baby’s firsts is always delightful, and watching them reach for objects of interest is captivating! Each new experience creates connections in their brain and the more they reach and grab onto, the more exploring and learning they can do.

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