Why does your new­born hold on so tight? Find out here…

When your new­born’s tiny hand grasps yours, it feels like your heart might melt…

Mother & Baby (UK) - - CONTENTS -

Your new­born’s in­stinct to hold on tight to you is known as the pal­mar re­flex, and it’s fas­ci­nat­ing! In­cred­i­bly, you may be able to see your

baby show­ing off the very be­gin­nings of it at your first scan. ‘The pal­mar grasp starts to de­velop from week 11 of preg­nancy and, af­ter this time, you do see ba­bies hold­ing on to the um­bil­i­cal cord in scans,’ ex­plains psy­chol­o­gist Sally God­dard Blythe. ‘At this stage, there’s just a clos­ing of the fin­gers that may not even be in re­sponse to com­ing into con­tact with some­thing. By 16 weeks she starts to use her thumb, too. And, by the time your baby is born, she will close her tiny fist around any­thing that touches the palm of her hand.’ And this re­flex is amaz­ingly strong: ‘Re­search shows that a baby can hold her own body­weight by this re­flex,’ says Sally, ‘al­though ob­vi­ously don’t test it out for your­self!’


‘The pal­mar re­flex is part of a group of early prim­i­tive re­flexes,’ ex­plains Sally. It gets stronger af­ter birth, and is at its strong­est when your baby is around eight weeks old. ‘One the­ory is that it’s an evo­lu­tion­ary left­over from baby mon­keys hold­ing onto their mother’s fur,’ says Sally. ‘It’s thought it’s a throw­back to when we needed to cling on to our mummy as she swung through the trees.’ And right now, your baby is su­per-de­pen­dent on you. She needs to stay close to you, and this is one way to make sure that hap­pens. The re­flex isn’t around for long, though, be­cause as your tot be­comes more in­de­pen­dent, she doesn’t need it any more. ‘It starts to re­cede from six months, and is gen­er­ally lost by one year,’ says Sally. ‘Th­ese early re­flexes are grad­u­ally in­hib­ited, or put to sleep, in the brain stem, but they don’t dis­ap­pear. If we have a se­ri­ous ac­ci­dent or in­jury as adults, they reap­pear.’


your baby seems to be grasp­ing your fin­ger ex­tra hard, she may be try­ing to tell you some­thing. ‘The pal­mar grasp is stronger

be­fore feed­ing than af­ter’, says Sally, ‘and an­other re­flex cou­ples it with a suck­ing move­ment up to four months old. In the past, mid­wives would use this re­flex to help a baby who was hav­ing dif­fi­culty latch­ing on. They would mas­sage the palms of the baby’s hands, which would stim­u­late a suck­ing move­ment on the breast or the bot­tle. If your baby strug­gles to latch on, and there’s no ob­vi­ous rea­son such

tongue tie, it’s worth try­ing for your­self. And some­times, if your baby is just sleepy or not in­ter­ested in feed­ing, gen­tly rub­bing the palms of her hands may stim­u­late her to open her mouth and start suck­ing again.’


Your baby has many re­flexes when she’s born, and some are linked to one an­other. You’re prob­a­bly well aware of her star­tle, or Moro, re­flex, when she sud­denly flings out her arms and legs, cries, then pulls her limbs back in again, in re­sponse to some­thing that star­tles her. If the pal­mar re­flex is al­ready stim­u­lated in one of your baby’s hands – so she’s grasp­ing some­thing – the Moro re­flex will only be ac­tive on the op­po­site side of her body. So, if she hears a loud noise when her left hand is

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