Your newborn could melt your heart in ways he won't even know. For instance, his little fingers will wrap around yours in a seemingly tender moment, and for sure, it's enough to elicit an "awww" from you. But, mind you, that's not the only thing he'll grab.
Basically, your newborn will try to reach out and grasp anything that comes near him at this stage (aww, don't feel bad). He'll stretch his hand out, then close his hand as if trying to hold onto something. It's called, aptly, the grasp reflex, or the Darwinian Reflex, and it's an indication that his nervous system is functioning well.
At the newborn stage, this act is involuntary, but your baby will gain control over his grasp over time and be able to do it more willingly. If you look closely, you'll find that the grasp reflex extends to your baby's feet as well, also called the plantar grasp reflex. It is characterized by your baby curling his soles inwards when stimulated as if trying to "hold" onto something.
The grasp reflex is a firm and strong grip using both his hands (have you ever had your hair caught between those fingers?). This begins developing inside the womb at 12 weeks, manifests at birth, and lasts up to the second month of life.
However, around the third month, you'll notice that the hold will weaken a bit, but will show more control. On the fourth month, the grasp will be more intentional, and he can direct his action specifically towards objects.
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The palmar reflex is also closely related to your baby's sucking movements, such as when he is nursing. The hands and mouth are linked together by the Babkin response, where the mouth opens when the palms are stimulated.
The grasp reflex also becomes the foundation for the Princer grasp, which is essential in the development of your child's fine motor skills, and eventually his ability to grip a pencil and write using his hand.
To test this reflex, bring your finger towards your baby's hand and wait for him to reach out and grasp it.
For the plantar grasp reflex, simply touch the soles of his feet with your finger or an object, and you'll see him react by moving his foot inwards.
Your baby will outgrow the grasp reflex by the third or fourth month. If it doesn't disappear gradually around this month, it could signal nervous system problems. Retaining this reflex will also present other challenges as he grows, such as writing difficulties and speech problems.