Pincer Grasp: How Do Babies Develop and Activities That Help

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The pincer grasp is the ability to hold or grasp something with the thumb and index fingertip. The American Academy of Pediatrics cited this ability as a developmental milestone with many other milestones. It can be exciting to see your little one achieving new milestones, and you may often look for common milestones such as rolling over, sitting up, or walking.

Claire Lerner, Parenting Resources Director at Zero to Three, a National Nonprofit Organization promoting the healthy development of babies and toddlers, says, “Getting the pincer grasp is one of the biggest keys to independence. Eventually, a child will use this grasp to do essential things like feed and dress herself and brush her teeth.”

Read on to learn more about the pincer grasp and toys and activities that help develop this skill.

In This Article

What Is Pincer Grasp?

Pincer grasp develops between 9 to 12 months of age
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Image: Shutterstock

A pincer grasp is a kind of finger-hold that your baby will start developing between 9 and 12 months of age (1). She will use the index finger and thumb together to squeeze an object before grasping and picking it up. It helps your little one understand how to pick up things. Once she learns to use pincer grasp or pincer grip, she can successfully feed herself with fingers and can use a spoon. Gradually, the skills refine, and the little one learns to pick things with both hands.

Sarah Osbon, a mother and nutritionist, shares that her son adopted the pincer grasp when he was seven months old. She says, “Around the middle of this month, he developed his pincer grasp. Which means he was able to pick things up using only two fingers and honeslty much earlier than most babies do- my advanced little man! This opened a whole new world of possiblities! I was then able to begin offering smaller things like beans, sliced blueberries, and diced foods (i).”

As evident from this case, the timing of babies developing the pincer grasp varies. If you ever feel concerned about your baby’s development, it’s wise to seek advice from your doctor. Each baby’s journey in mastering these skills is unique.

How Do Babies Develop Pincer Grasp?

Babies can grasp things right from the time of birth. It is a reflex action in the first few months, called palmar grasp. The baby learns to hold anything in the palm by wrapping her fingers and thumb around it from one side (2). The palmar grasp gradually develops into pincer grasp, which is a developmental milestone. Here is how she develops her grasping skills through the months (2):

One-Two Months

During the first two months, the little one keeps her hands clenched in a fist. She can curl her tiny fingers around yours as an instinct, to hold on to them tightly. This reflex slows down by the time she is three months old.

Three-Four Months

Now, the hand-eye coordination begins to develop, where she attempts to notice things and might even try to reach out for them. In the three-four month period, she can hold a toy or block. She may not grasp accurately but can bat. She may hold a rattle for a few seconds and can rake an object towards her.

Five-Six Months

Babies may attempt to pick an object
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By now, the palmar grasp becomes a voluntary skill. Five or six-month-old babies intentionally grip objects with this grasp. Your little angel attempts to pick an object, cover it with her hand, and squeeze into her fist. It includes the usage of the whole hand to grasp, pick, and hold an object. Once she masters in clutching larger objects in her palm, she will concentrate on gaining adeptness in her fingers in the coming months.

Seven-Nine Months

Between seven and nine months, your baby can use all the fingers and thumb to grasp a small toy. At nine months, she will be able to pass an object from one hand to the other. Eventually, the baby learns pincer grasp between nine and 12 months, in a direct route for picking things. It is a way of getting the index finger and thumb together as if to pinch.

Based on how well the baby can pick things using a pincer grasp, it is classified into two stages.

Inferior or crude pincer grasp: It is an initial stage where the baby uses the pads of the index finger and thumb to pick little things. It may last for 10 months from when the reflex begins.

Superior or neat pincer grasp: It is an advanced stage of the reflex, also called as fine pincer grasp, developed between 10 and 12 months. The baby can pick things using the tip of the index finger and thumb. Next, the baby will develop the lateral pincer grasp to hold an object between the side of the index finger’s mid-joint and the thumb.

Help your baby develop a more mature pincer grasp by trying the below-listed activities.

Pincer Grasp Activities To Help Your Babies

Encouraging the pincer grasp skill means allowing the little explorer to investigate a lot with their fingers. So let your baby explore toys and household objects through touch and manipulation, which is helpful in sensory integration.

Finger Foods: Allow your little one to try a few cheerios or soft finger foods such as cooked carrots or peas on her high chair. Place small food items like cheerios, raisins, etc., inside an ice cube tray compartments and challenge her to pick them using pincer grasp. Use tiny sock gloves which oblige her to use just the index finger and thumb. Keep away hard foods like raw carrots and nuts to avoid choking hazards (3).

Allow your little one to try some finger foods
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Image: Shutterstock

Strengthen The Index Finger: Pointing or poking some object with the index finger is the initial stage of the pincer grasp.

  1. Encourage your little one to point out pictures in books or body parts.
  2. Let her push the play dough to make holes in it or push foods in her tray (3).
  3. Allow her to push buttons.
  4. Let her pull something out of your pocket and push something inside it.
  5. Let her enjoy pulling out tissues from a box (3).

Practice With Household Objects: The little one needs ample practice.

  1. Simple kitchen items such as measuring cups and spoons, bowls, etc., are always a means of fun learning while playing.
  2. Allow the baby to drop objects into containers and help her learn to separate them. This aids muscle movements of the hand, wrist, and individual fingers.
  3. Stick a piece of paper to the table or floor and allow your baby to scribble with crayons or a marker. Do not worry if they cannot hold the crayon/marker with precision, as she is still developing her fine motor skills.

Toys To Encourage Babies In Using Pincer Grasp

  • Toys or objects such as dials to turn, switches to flip, can be good pincer grasp toys, which help babies in developing skills needed to get the pincer grasp.
  • Playing with toys, which need squeezing or pulling apart will be helpful. Balls of varying sizes and textures encourage the baby to push or squeeze. They help in the development of the infant’s hand muscles and the ability to coordinate them.

In addition, these toys will provide the baby with tactile feedback that helps them understand different physical characteristics, such as texture, pressure, and vibration, of the object or surface.

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A reusable empty tissue box with colorful fabric squares helps babies practice grasping skills.
Playing with toys can encourage pincer grasp in babies
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Image: Shutterstock

  • Allow the baby to play with toys like stacking rings and alphabet blocks of varying shapes, sizes, and textures. Let her pick them, throw, pick again, stack, or knock them down. She may even clap them together.

Be extra careful. Keep choking hazards out of your little angel’s reach. Present one or two items at a time for practice. Too many things may tempt her to use ‘less mature raking grasp’, as she attempts to pick all of them at once, using all the fingers.

What Happens After The Pincer Grasp Development?

Once the pincer grasp is developed, grasping becomes precise. Babies explore more by shaking, moving, throwing, and rotating. Mouth is no longer their primary sensory preceptor. They use both the hands to determine the size, hardness, texture, weight, and other properties.

Pincer grasp helps in later activities such as writing, coloring with crayons, cutting with scissors, and so on. The child’s preference for using left or right hand emerges slowly, although it can completely develop by two or three years.

When Should You Worry?

Every baby reaches milestones at his or her own pace. If your baby is not catching up or attempting for a pincer grasp, she is probably not ready for it yet. Give more time and do not pressurize your little one. While achieving milestones is important, understanding a baby’s developmental stages is equally important! Consider it as a matter of concern if your child is not using the pincer grasp by 12 months. Get an evaluation done to assess her fine motor skills and check if she needs occupational therapyiXA technique to use usual everyday activities to treat physiological or psychological conditions. .

Note that premature babies reach milestones a bit later than their peers. Other possible causes of delayed or absent pincer grasp can be genetic disorders like cerebral palsyiXA congenital disorder identified by impaired muscle coordination. and autismiXA neurological condition that predominantly causes developmental disability. . Check with the pediatrician to clarify your worries or doubts.

protip_icon Point to consider
A doctor may suggest interventions like occupational therapy. An occupational therapist works with your child to encourage developmental milestones.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. When should I start practicing pincer grasp?

It is not necessary to actively “practice” the pincer grasp. It typically develops naturally as part of a baby’s motor development. However, you can encourage its development by providing opportunities for your baby to use their hands, such as giving them small objects to hold, placing toys within reach, and encouraging them to pick up objects (1). It is important to remember that each baby develops at their own pace, and some may develop the pincer grasp earlier or later than others.

2. Is pincer grasp natural?

Yes, the pincer grasp is a natural development in infants and typically develops between 8 and 10 months. It is a fine motor skill where the index finger and thumb come together to pick up small objects, such as pieces of food or small toys. This is an important milestone in the development of hand-eye coordination and dexterity.

3. Can a child with a delayed pincer grasp catch up to their peers?

Yes, with the appropriate care and therapy, a baby with a delayed pincer grasp can catch up to their peers. Early intervention and activities can help improve fine motor skills and promote the development of a functional pincer grasp (4).

4. What are some common baby grasps?

Babies go through various grasping stages as part of their early development. In the initial months, the palmar grasp reflex is observed, where babies instinctively close their fingers around objects in their palms. Babies then progress to the raking grasp, when they use their fingers to pull objects closer. This is followed by the pincer grasp when babies pick up small items between their thumb and forefinger. Initially using their whole hand, babies transition to more refined grips like the three-finger grasp as their hand muscles strengthen. Encouraging these grasping milestones with safe and suitable toys helps enhance the baby’s fine motor skills and overall coordination.

Most babies develop the pincer grasp by around 12 months. This grasping method involves the action of holding the thumb and index finger to pick things. It allows babies to get hold of things and also self-feed themselves. You may try activities and give them appropriate toys to develop this skill. By developing the pincer grasp, babies use their hands and not mouths to decide an objects’ weight, texture, and other properties. If your baby has not developed this grasp by their first birthday, you can wait for some time and then consult your pediatrician.

Infographic: Grasp Patterns In Babies

Don’t you love it when your little one curls their cute fingers and grasps your finger as you touch their palms? Save and share our infographic where we explain all about the different grasps in babies and their developmental milestones.

grasp reflex in babies (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Get the high-quality PDF version of this infographic.

Download Infographic in PDF version

Key Pointers

  • Pincer grasp develops between 9-12 months; babies initially have a reflex action called palmar grasp.
  • Pincer grasp helps babies become independent in feeding and dressing themselves.
  • Activities for developing pincer grasp include finger foods, tiny sock gloves, and index finger strengthening.
  • Consult a pediatrician if your baby doesn’t develop pincer grasp by their first birthday.

Dive deep into this video and learn how to develop your child’s Pincer grasp with 5 easy Pincer grasp activities.

Personal Experience: Source


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
    1. Developmental Milestones: Fine Motor Skills and Visual Motor Skills.
    2. Infants (0 – 14 Months).
    3. Simple and Rewarding Pincer Grasp Activities for Babies.
    4. Sevan S. Misirliyan et al., Development Milestones.
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