Sunday, May 10, 2009

Beginning Grasp

Everyone is enchanted by the grasp of a newborn infant. “Look she’s got my finger!” exclaims big sister. In quiet moments with a newborn we gently stroke the palm of the tiny hand and the little fingers curl around our own. We feel a connection and the beginning of communication with our baby.

This grasp is reflexive. The ability to do this at birth is hard wired into our nervous system. We do not need to be taught nor do we need to practice the simple act of grasping. But baby does get practice in grasping, and one day the grasping will develop the nerve pathways to the brain to develop into a purposeful use of the hand. This growth is not isolated from the development in other areas such as strengthening the upper body. All kinds of developments are going on while baby practices holding on to whatever is placed in her hand.

When she is placed on her tummy, she strengthens her head and trunk muscles. She begins to work to bring her arms forward of her body. Then, those little hands will start a raking movement. Maybe the raking movement will help scoot her forward. Maybe the raking movement will put an object in her hand.

Raking is very functional for our baby and it continues to be the predominant method for actively putting an object into the hand for quite some time. My father enjoyed telling about how he put a cookie at the edge of the table and I, being too short to see what was on the table, would find it. I would use raking motion, grasp it in my hand, and plop down to eat. Very functional!
Babies continue to use the raking movement to feed themselves when they are placed in a highchair. As parent we are so proud our babies are beginning to feed themselves. We simultaneously are amused by the messes they make as food is fisted into the mouth and we look forward longingly to the use of a spoon and fork and less mess.

It will take some time to get there. For the moment I suggest spaghetti or chocolate pudding, patience, a sense of humor, and a camera.

Toad House Publishing

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