Your Newborn's Grasping Reflex

baby's hand holding woman's finger

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All parents of newborns should know the definition of the grasp or grasping reflex. It's perhaps one of the sweetest involuntary movements that babies exhibit. The grasping reflex allows newborns to grab your finger and hold tight. Learn more about why babies have this reflex.

What Is the Grasping Reflex?

Stroke your baby's palm with your pointer finger and you'll likely have to pry away his sweet, fragile fingers to release the grip. Sure, this reflex makes obtaining handprints tough, but it's perfect for allowing an older sibling to hold the hand of her new baby brother or sister. 

This reflex is an important sign of your baby's nervous system development and function. Plus, it helps your newborn get some much-needed skin-to-skin contact with you and loved ones.

The grasping reflex is also called the Darwinian Reflex, after scientist Charles Darwin. This reflex is also sometimes known as the palmar grasp reflex. This involuntary movement will gradually disappear around 6 months of age. In fact, if an infant does not outgrow the grasping reflex, it could signal brain or nervous system damage.

The plantar grasp reflex (Babinski reflex) is similar to the grasp reflex of the hand. If you place your thumb below the toe bed of an infant's foot and apply pressure, the toes will curl around your thumb, grasping it (flexion and adduction). This reflex is not present in many newborns.

Other Types of Newborn Reflexes

The grasp or grasping reflex is just one of many amazing movements newborns make when learning to adjust to their new world outside of the womb. Here are some more involuntary motions vital to your baby's healthy development.

  • Moro Reflex (or Startle Reflex): If there's a loud noise or other environmental stimuli, the baby will extend his arms, legs and fingers and arch. It disappears between age 3 and 6 months. 
  • Sucking Reflex: If you touch the roof of your baby’s mouth with your finger, a pacifier or a nipple, he will instinctively begin sucking. It becomes a conscious effort around 2 to 3 months.
  • Rooting Reflex: If you stroke a newborn's cheek, he'll automatically open his mouth and turn his head toward the side that was stroked. This helps your baby find the breast or bottle to begin feeding. It disappears by 4 months.
  • Stepping Reflex: When you place his feet on a flat surface, your baby will put one foot in front of the other. It disappears at around 2 to 3 months of age.
  • Tonic Neck Reflex (or Fencing Reflex): When placed on is back, your infant will assume the "fencing position." His head will turn with the arm and leg of one side extended (the pair on the side he’s turned toward), and his other arm and leg will be flexed. It disappears by 4 months of age.

What the Absence of Newborn Reflexes May Mean

An absent, weak, or asymmetrical reflex may be a side effect of birth trauma, medications, and illness. If you're concerned that your little one is not correctly performing newborn reflexes, call your pediatrician. Together, you can test the amazing feats of your new baby.

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