When Do Babies Develop the Pincer Grasp?

Curious when your baby will start holding things with their thumb and forefinger, known as the pincer grasp? We turned to experts to learn about this milestone.

baby using pincer grasp to pick up strawberry

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The first year of a baby's life is full of new developments. It's pretty mindblowing that over a few short months your newborn, who once could not even hold their head up on their own, will be toddling around and learning to feed themselves.

Babies generally go through major physical milestones in a relatively predictable order. Reaching one step in development prepares them for the next. For example, hand and finger milestones begin with your baby reaching for an object. Then they will start to grasp objects, raking them towards themselves with their hands.

One of the most important hand and finger milestones is called the pincer grasp. Here, we explain exactly what the pincer grasp is and why it's so important for your baby's development.

Key Takeaway

The pincer grasp is a developmental milestone in which a baby is able to pick up a small object by grasping it between their thumb and forefinger. It paves the way for other milestones later, and it's usually seen around 8 to 10 months of age.

What Is the Pincer Grasp?

The pincer grasp is a fine motor skill that entails picking up an object by grasping it between the thumb and forefinger. When your baby can use the pincer grasp, they will be able to pick up small objects, such as toys or pieces of food. Mastering the pincer grasp is an important first step in other motor skills, such as learning to hold a pencil in the future.

When Does a Baby Develop the Pincer Grasp?

Most babies will start using the pincer grasp around 8 to 10 month of age. At this time, little ones generally hold objects closer to the base of the thumb and index finger. "Like all development, this is a process that takes time to fully mature," says Peter Putnam, M.D., chair of the pediatrics department at Esse Health. "The inferior pincer grasp occurs before the fully developed superior pincer grasp."

With time and practice, babies will eventually reach the point where they can pick up a single small object with the pads of their thumb and forefinger. This usually happens by the time they reach 12 months of age.

How to Help a Baby Strengthen Their Pincer Grasp

Your baby will naturally start to attempt the pincer grasp as long as there is something to pick up within their reach. To help support their development, provide them with safe opportunities to practice grasping and strengthening the small muscles in their hands.

Strengthening the Pincer Grasp

You can help your baby strengthen their pincer grasp by offering developmentally appropriate finger foods and small toys with supervision, as well as modeling pointing.

Here are a few things you can do to encourage your baby's development of the pincer grasp:

Serve Finger Foods

As soon as you see the first signs of a pincer grasp, add finger foods to your baby's high chair tray. Try green peas, Cheerios, or chopped up pieces of fruit. "Over time you will marvel at how your baby first grasps the food somewhat crudely with their whole hand, then with thumb and base of index finger, and eventually very accurately with the tips of the thumb and index finger," says Dr. Putnam.

Provide Small Toys

Around the time that your infant is working on their hand and finger milestones, they will naturally start to be fascinated with small objects. Provide them with some toys to practice grasping. "I suggest giving your child some small blocks or pull toys," says Pierette Mimi Poinsett, M.D., a pediatrician and medical consultant for Mom Loves Best.

Just make sure that you supervise your child carefully and handle the objects with them. Certain small toys can be a choking hazard for children under age 3.

Play With Knobbed Puzzles

Look for large wooden puzzles with knobs on the front of each piece. Show your child how to grasp the knob between your thumb and forefinger. Continue to model this grasp as you work on the puzzles together.

Knobbed puzzles give your baby the opportunity to work with small objects without having to worry about a choking hazard. Just make sure to buy high quality puzzles and check the knobs frequently to ensure they won't break off.

Use Painter's Tape

Spread a few lengths of painter's tape anywhere in your home. This might be on the wall, the floor, or on top of a table that your child can reach easily. Adhere the tape loosely at the ends so that your child can easily take hold of it and peel it off the surface. You might be surprised at how long this activity keeps your baby's interest!

Practice Pointing

If your little one hasn't yet started using a pincer grasp, you can model pointing. When you talk about things, emphasize and point at them with a very straight finger. "Your baby will imitate you and this will begin to strengthen the finger muscles in preparation for grasping," explains Dr. Poinsett.

When to Worry About the Pincer Grasp

All babies develop at their own rate, and some will take longer to master the pincer grasp than others. If you have any concerns about your baby's hand and finger development, or if your baby reaches 12 months of age without starting to use the pincer grasp, reach out a pediatrician or health care provider. The physician may have some more suggestions for encouraging this development, or they may choose to make some further assessments.

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