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 their 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 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.

  • Asymetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (or Fencing Reflex): When placed on their back, your infant will assume the "fencing position." Their head will turn with the arm and leg of one side extended (the pair on the side they are turned toward), and the other arm and leg will be flexed. It disappears by 3-9 months of age.
  • 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. 
  • Rooting Reflex: If you stroke a newborn's cheek, they'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 their 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.
  • Sucking Reflex: If you touch the roof of your baby’s mouth with your finger, a pacifier or a nipple, they will instinctively begin sucking. It becomes a conscious effort around 2 to 3 months.

A Word From Verywell

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.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. Infant reflexes.

  2. Gieysztor EZ, Choińska AM, Paprocka-Borowicz M. Persistence of primitive reflexes and associated motor problems in healthy preschool childrenArch Med Sci. 2018;14(1):167–173. doi:10.5114/aoms.2016.60503

  3. Rousseau PV, Matton F, Lecuyer R, Lahaye W. The Moro reaction: More than a reflex, a ritualized behavior of nonverbal communication. Infant Behav Dev. 2017;46:169-177. doi:10.1016/j.infbeh.2017.01.004

By Stephanie Brown
Stephanie Brown is a parenting writer with experience in the Head Start program and in NAEYC accredited child care centers.