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Parenting

Pincer Grasp: Development Milestones and Motor Skill Activities

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It’s no surprise that you find yourself in constant amazement as your baby develops skill after skill in such a short period of time. As they move their way up the growth chart, so many other developments are seemingly happening minute by minute. On the laundry list of skills you can expect your baby to master in his first twelve months of life, the pincer grasp, or when your baby starts actually picking things up with her thumb and index fingers, is sure to be an exciting one. This means that babies can start to do all sorts of things on their own— this includes picking up and eating their first foods

What is the pincer grasp?

The pincer grasp is when your child attempts to pick up small objects using her thumb and index fingers (the fingers directly next to the thumb), usually between 9-12 months. If you can picture how a lobster might pick up an item, that is kind of how your child looks when she’s starting to utilize her pincer grasp! While this achievement may not seem incredibly important, it sets the stage for a myriad of fine motor skills that will soon follow. 

When do babies start picking things up?

Babies begin picking up objects around 4 months, according to Dr Regine Brioche, board-certified pediatrician and Bobbie medical advisor. You might notice this development begin as your baby reaches for an item by grasping, or using both hands. As they become more skilled, the grasp evolves from two hand involvement to two fingers. Babies reach pincer grasp age when they are interested in bringing things close— to observe, to smell or likely— to eat.

Stages of pincer grasp development

Like many skills your baby will master, the pincer grasp is one she will achieve through a set of stages.

Stage 1: Palmar grasp

The palmar grasp reflex, also known as the grasp reflex, occurs when your child starts bringing her fingers in towards her palm or curling her fingers around an object. There are three types of palmar grasp, according to Dr. Brioche, with the first being crude. It typically starts at around 4 months and involves your baby using her palms to hold an object in place in her hand. “At 5 months, the crude transforms to the ulnar, where the infant holds an object more toward the pinkie (ulnar side of the hand),” Dr. Brioche explains. “At this stage, they haven’t learned to involve the thumb.” 

The last palmar grasp is called radial (thumb), which begins at 7 months, and is the first time the thumb is used to pick up objects. Fingers curl around the objects and the thumb is used to stabilize them on the side.

Stage 2: Raking grasp

At around 6 months, you might notice your child picking up small objects using all fingers except the thumb in a “raking” motion. This is known as the raking grasp and helps set the stage for the inferior pincer grasp.

Stage 3: Inferior pincer grasp

Between 9 and 10 months, your child may start using the inferior pincer grasp, which is when she holds a small object, such as a Cheerio, between her thumb and index finger using the pads. Typically the object is braced mostly towards the thumb, explains Dr. Brioche.

Stage 4: Superior pincer grasp

Also known as a fully developed pincer, this final stage is usually seen around the child’s 1st birthday. Once an infant or toddler has mastered the superior pincer grasp, they can begin picking up small objects using the tips of their thumb and index, notes Dr. Brioche.

Pincer grasp activities for babies

Here are some helpful strategies you can encourage to help foster your child’s development of the pincer grasp:

Self-feeding

During the first few months of your child’s introduction to solid foods, you may be mostly spoon feeding, but consider letting your child grab food items that are appropriately sized (around the size of a pea) from a tray or flat surface. “Serving bite-sized food pieces scattered on the tray encourages the baby to pick up an individual piece of food with the thumb and index rather than scooping,” says Dr. Brioche.

Peeling tape or stickers

Place pieces of tape of varying lengths on a carpet or tabletop and let your baby peel it off. This will help to develop strength within their hands and fingers, explains Dr. Brioche.

Pull toys

These time-honored toys serve an important purpose. Not only are they entertaining, but they help foster your child’s pincer grasp development. Dr. Brioche recommends putting the pull toy’s string in front of your child to see if they will pick it up with their finger and thumb. If they don’t initially grab for it, show them how and see if they follow suit.

Turning pages of a book

When reading your baby a book, try encouraging them to turn the pages. Doing so, Dr. Brioche explains, helps promote language and fine motor development and encourages pinching of the fingers.

Playing with blocks

Blocks are a staple of children’s toys. If you haven’t already been given a set by a friend or family member, consider purchasing one. Introducing blocks of various sizes and textures encourages your baby to grasp items with their hands and explore with their mouths, according to Dr. Brioche.

FAQ’s about the pincer grasp

When should I start practicing pincer grasp with my baby?

Dr. Brioche recommends starting to practice the pincer grasp with your baby as early as 7 months. This can be done by allowing your child to feed his/herself appropriately sized or textured finger foods. 

What age do babies pick things up?

Around 4 months, babies are interested in picking things up. This is when the palmar grasp kicks in.

Why is the pincer grasp a concern?

“The pincer grasp represents the coordination of the brain with the precise control of movement in the small muscles of the hands,” says Dr. Brioche. “This requires multiple skills, including strength and hand-eye coordination which will allow a baby to gain increasing independence.”

What does pincer grasp look like?

The pincer grasp is the ability to “pinch” or hold a small item between the tip of the thumb and index finger. 

Is pincer grasp a fine motor skill?

Yes, the pincer grasp is considered a fine motor skill since it’s related to the use of the upper extremities to interact and manipulate the environment. Fine motor skills are necessary for self-help such as feeding oneself, getting dressed and playing.

The content on this site is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant's pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.
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The content on this site is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant’s pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.

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Meet the Expert

Jenn Sinrich

Jenn Sinrich is an experienced writer, digital and social editor and content strategist in Boston, Massachusetts. She's written for several publications including SELF, Women's Health, Martha Stewart Weddings, Reader's Digest, PureWow, and many more. She covers various topics, from health and fitness to love and sex.