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Infant Hand Grasp & Development

By Bridget Coila ; Updated June 13, 2017

The stages at which an infant can grasp and hold objects are important milestones in a baby's life. Learning to grab things not only makes play more interesting for the baby, but it also prepares him for future skills, such as eating with a spoon or fork and manipulating small objects with his hands.

Grasp Types

The two types of grasping or gripping that a baby develops are called the palmar grasp and the pincer grasp. The palmar grasp involves using the whole hand to wrap around an object and hold it or pick it up. The pincer grasp is the kind of grip seen when an infant picks up or holds an object between the first finger and the thumb.

Timing

Babies are born with an instinctual palmar grasp, seen when the newborn grips a finger placed in the palm of the hand. The instinctual palmar grip disappears by 3 months of age. By 4 months, an infant will develop a basic palmar grasp, picking up or grabbing objects by curling the hand in as she feels something touch her palm. This palmar grasp doesn't use the thumb at first, but soon the baby learns that curling the thumb around will give her a better grip. The pincer grasp develops sometime after 8 months. According to the Baylor University Medical Center, true control of the strength of the grasp will not occur until about age 2.

Considerations

Babies who are born prematurely might meet milestones, including those for grasping, a little later than their full-term peers. If an infant is not showing any attempts to grasp objects or an inability to hold things in his hand by 9 months of age, a pediatrician should evaluate him for developmental delays.

Handedness

According to BabyCenter, babies remain ambidextrous for the first few years of life. An infant may, however, begin to show some preference for using one hand over the other at about 9 months of age. This preference sometimes changes as the baby grows, but she'll generally establish whether she is right- or left-handed by age 2 or 3.

Parental Involvement

The best way for parents to encourage a baby to practice his grasping technique is by giving him interesting things to try and grab. Placing favorite toys just at the edge of the baby's reach encourages him to stretch and grasp the item to pull it closer. Feeding him small, soft foods, such as peas, can help him practice his pincer grip.

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