Helping Hands - Part I - Encouraging Hand Use Birth to 3 Months Old

The first thing to mention is what’s known as the grasping reflex. Parents are often fooled - and understandably so - by a different reflex known as the stepping reflex – which leads them to believe their baby is already taking steps at only one or two months old. Similarly, when it comes to hand use, the grasping reflex makes parents think their little one has super strength, or is even interested in holding something in their hands at all. The truth is though, the grasping reflex causes a baby to wrap their fingers around an item that’s placed in their palm. Even though this is a reflex (i.e. baby isn’t doing this intentionally) it doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t use it to their advantage for building their baby’s upper extremity strength and awareness:

 

  • Lie baby flat on their back and place your finger in their palm. Feel them wrap those little fingers around yours, and sway their hands up, down and all around. Pair it with a little song and encourage baby to explore your face. And remember to keep your face 12 or 18 inches away to also facilitate bonding!
  • As your baby gets closer to 3 months old, keep baby on their back and utilize the grasping reflex for doing what’s known as pull to sit, which will help your baby develop core, neck and upper extremity strength all at one. Just make sure you’re also holding your baby’s hands while you do this in case they let go. 

 

Tummy-time. If you’ve been reading our blogs, by this point you realize how important we consider tummy time. Tummy-time is important for a number of reasons, including its importance for building upper extremity strength & awareness. This awareness and strength is required for higher level (more advanced) use of their arms and hands as they get older. During birth to 3 months old, your baby will be propping themselves up on their forearms, which is perfect. As they become older though, they’ll begin weight-bearing through their hands, which we’ll discuss next week.

Newborn babies in this time frame will also start to develop an interest in exploring their own hands at midline.

Like all important skills though, this doesn’t happen overnight. Here’s what we can do to help.

  • Many, but not all newborn loungers help facilitate this skill. Our Learn & Lounge and the Boppy Newborn lounger are both shaped to help bring baby’s shoulders slightly forward, which helps them get those heavy arms and hands to the middle of their body! 
  • If you don’t have a lounger like that, you can also position baby on your lap, facing you. You can use your legs to help bring their shoulders forward, like this:

  • Notice how the mother's legs keep the baby’s arms by their side in this photo. In fact, if she positioned her legs even a little bit wider, the baby’s arms would actually go forward even more, which would facilitate hands to midline. (Pro-tip – that’s why a Rahoo or Boppy, or sitting in a position like this is such a great way to help your baby Learn to hold and feed themselves a bottle!)

Next week (Wednesday the 26th) we'll be discussing hand use from 3 - 6 months - what a fun subject!

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