One of the first things your newborn does (apart from crying, of course) is wrapping their teeny tiny fingers around yours. This universally precious moment for all moms is something that the baby does instinctively. And when they do it, almost nothing can compare to the joy you feel. These happy tears are indeed one of the sweetest you’ll ever experience!
But have you ever wondered when and why your baby holds on so tightly to your fingers?
Well, this mysterious habit of infants wrapping their hands around your fingers is not a coincidental thing and actually has a scientific explanation behind it. This wonderful little act that makes you feel like you’re on cloud 9 is, in reality, a reflex that they are born with. Known as the ‘palmar grasp reflex’, babies tend to elicit it whenever you either stroke their palm or finger, or place something as tiny as their Thumbelina-like fingers, into their hands (1).
It is interesting to note that this reflex emerges even before your baby is born – just 11 weeks in the womb is when it starts and stops almost 2 to 3 months after birth (2). In fact, sometimes your baby can curl their hands up into a fist even if you do not place anything on their palm. It’s just a part of their reflex! And this grasp can get very, very strong, mind you.
However, this hand-grasping reflex is not the only one your infant is born with. Here are six other reflexes that will make any mother’s heart swell with equal amounts pride and love (3):
1. Root Reflex
If you try softly stroking your infant’s cheek, you’ll notice your baby turns their head towards your hand. This reflex is known as ‘rooting’ and it helps your child find the nipple so they can feed when they’re hungry.
2. Suck Reflex
The suck reflex is two staged and comes just after the root reflex. If you place your nipple or finger into your child’s mouth, your child will open his or her mouth and wrap their lipsaround your areola, pressing the nipple between their palate and tongue. In the next phase, the child starts sucking.
3. Babinski Reflex
This reflex is a rather puzzling one as science still hasn’t been able to figure out why babies do this. Although the conjecture is that this is your baby’s way of stopping themselves from falling. When you touch your child’s foot, or caress it from heel to toe, your baby will respond by spreading out their toes and bending the big one backward (4).
4. Moro Reflex
This reflex is also known as the ‘startle reflex’. Whenever there’s a sudden loud sound, your child will not just cry loudly but even throw out their arms and legs, pull their head backwards, and start crying loudly. This happens when they get startled and it can also be caused by a feeling of falling or sudden movements.
5. Tongue-Thrust Reflex
After 6 months of age, i.e. when you start weaning your child, you’ll notice that your baby will spit out any food you try to make them eat. This happens because up till that age, your child is only used to milk as food and, hence, throws out foods that feel foreign. This reflex also helps prevent choking.
6. Step Reflex
When your child is not of walking age, they’ll still make an attempt to walk if you hold them upright and let their feet touch solid ground. This is known as step reflex.
Apart from these, you’ll notice other reflexes too, such as placing, Galant reflex, and tonic neck reflex. All of these are major milestones in your child’s life and watching them happen is an experience you’ll never forget.