The grasp reflex is an involuntary movement that your baby starts making in utero and continues doing until around 6 months of age. It’s a crowd-pleaser of a reflex: This is the reflex at play when your newborn wraps their adorable little fingers around one of yours.
Here’s more about this reflex, as well as its significance.
The grasp reflex — also called the palmar grasp reflex — is an involuntary response. That means your baby isn’t controlling it. There are two separate steps to the reflex: finger closure and clinging. The clinging is actually strong enough to hold your baby’s weight.
Want to test it? Lay your baby on their back, press your pinkies into their palms to initiate the reflex, and slowly lift your baby about an inch. But watch out: When your baby tires, they’ll suddenly let go and fall back.
When people refer to the grasp or grasping reflex, they’re generally talking about the palmar version. However, there is another grasp reflex — the plantar variety.
The palmar grasp reflex is found in the palms of the hands, while the plantar grasp reflex is found in the soles of the feet. Although the plantar reflex is found in most people, this reflex has its own name in babies — the Babinski reflex. That’s because this reflex works in a unique way in babies.
Want to test your baby for the Babinski reflex? Firmly stroke the bottom of your newborn’s foot by running your finger up the outer part of their sole. You’ll notice the big toe flex upward and backward toward the top of their foot. The other toes will fan out.
An additional way to test for the reflex is to put your baby in a standing position while supporting them and allowing the soles of their feet to touch the floor. Watch how their toes flex.
At around 1 to 2 years old, the Babinski reflex will disappear and be replaced with the standard plantar reflex. Now, when the sole of the foot is stroked, the toes will turn downward as if they’re trying to grab something.
Most babies younger than 4 months old aren’t able to control their muscles sufficiently to voluntarily reach for things.
But between 4 and 6 months, your baby will start reaching for things like brightly colored rattles, your glasses, and your earrings. The involuntary palmar reflex may fire the neurons that lay the foundation for these voluntary movements later on. Think of the reflex as building neural pathways.
Plus, there’s the bonding component. The palmar reflex helps develop the bond between you and your baby. Who doesn’t melt when an infant firmly wraps their hand around your finger?
The palmar grasp reflex appears at around
Don’t worry if your baby’s palmar grasp reflex is less intense during the first and second days after birth. This is perfectly normal.
Enjoy feeling those tiny fingers clasp yours because at around
As your baby’s brain develops, voluntary movements replace involuntary reflexes. Instead of reacting instinctively, your baby is starting to think about what they want to do.
The palmar reflex is supposed to disappear. The medical term for this disappearing act is “integration.”
A palmar reflex that isn’t integrated by
Sometimes the palmar reflex reappears in adults. This can occur after an ischemic stroke (a lack of blood flow to the brain) or a hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding in the brain). Both of these destroy brain cells. When the brain is damaged, the palmar reflex may return.
The grasp reflex might just be an involuntary movement, but it sure sets your heart aflutter! Enjoy these first interactions with your newborn, and take heart once it disappears. Soon enough, your toddler will be reaching out to hold your hand — entirely of their own volition.
And if you have any concerns that your infant isn’t properly displaying this reflex, bring it up with your pediatrician. They’ll be able to tell you more about what’s going on with your baby’s development.