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.
Give the Grasping Reflex a Try
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.
The grasping reflex also works on a newborn’s feet. If you stroke the sole of your baby’s foot, his toes will automatically spread open, and the foot will turn slightly inward. This is sometimes called the Babinski reflex and is fun to watch.
Other Names for the Grasping Reflex
The grasping reflex is also called the Darwinian Reflex, after scientist Charles Darwin. Additional names for this reflex include the tonic grasp reflex or palmar/plantar grasp reflex. This involuntary movement will gradually disappear when a child turns about 3 months old. In fact, if an infant does not outgrow the grasping reflex, it could signal brain or nervous system damage.
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.
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 by 4 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.
An absent or weak 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.