Babies grow at an astonishing rate in the first year of life – not just in weight and length but also in the skills they develop. As parents, we tend to look out for the 'big-moment' developmental milestones, like the first time your baby smiles, rolls over or sits up, but there are other milestones that might seem less 'ta dah!' but are no less important – and one of those is definitely the fine-motor development of the pincer grip.


What is the pincer grip?

The pincer grip is the ability to pinch your thumb and forefinger together so that you can pick up small objects.

At what age will my baby master the pincer grip?

Babies tend to fully develop the pincer grip at about 9 to 10 months old.

Does the pincer grip develop in stages?

Yes. Newborn babies have what's called the 'palmar reflex': when something is put on their palm, their fingers wrap tightly around it. It's a reflex, so it's an involuntary movement that your baby does not consciously control, and it's present until about 4 to 6 months of age.

At about 4 to 6 months old, babies usually start to gain some control of their palmar grip. At this point, they'll use all their fingers and their thumb to rake or palm an object into their hand to hold on to it.

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A few months later, by about 9 to 10 months old, they progress from this whole hand movement to using a pincer grip – with a lot of practice in between.

Why is it important for my baby to develop a pincer grip?

Having dexterity and control of the many small muscles in the hands is important to be able to carry out the functions of daily living as you get older.

It's a bit like the difference between trying to manipulate objects with your hand in a mitten and trying to manipulate objects with your hand in a glove: wearing a glove means you have control of all your fingers separately – unlike when wearing a mitten.

Using the pincer grip means your baby can pick up small objects and feed themselves more efficiently. And as they grow and develop further, they will then use the pincer grip for other skills, such as getting dressed and undressed, doing up buttons, writing, tying laces, and more.

How can I encourage my baby to develop their pincer grip?

Babies learn through play and lots of play can help develop a pincer grip if the object is not too big. I'd recommend:

  • Sorting games and shape sorters
  • Pasta shapes to transfer from one bowl to another
  • Socks. Encourage your baby to help you pick out the socks from your dry laundry

As your baby gets older, they may enjoy activities such as playdoughwhich is great for fine motor development and in time, activities which require more finger strength, like moving clothes pegs, or more dexterity, like stringing Cheerios on a string!

Finger foods are also a great incentive for pincer-grip development, once your baby is old enough to be weaned onto solid foods (generally. about 6 months of age). Start by offering bigger finger foods they can pick up with their whole hand to stop them from getting too frustrated. You can try some smaller pieces of food for them to pick up too, remembering to slice grapes in half lengthways (as well as other similar-sized foods).

Also consider the texture of the food: a slippery piece of fruit is harder to pick up than a wedge of cheese or even something small like a raisin.

What if my baby doesn't seem to be developing a pincer grip? What should I do?

Babies do develop at different rates and there is a range of average ages at which they acquire skills but if you are concerned about your baby's development at any age or stage, please see your GP.

Pic: Getty


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Dr Philippa Kaye works as a GP in both NHS and private practice. She attended Downing College, Cambridge, then took medical studies at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s medical schools in London, training in paediatrics, gynaecology, care of the elderly, acute medicine, psychiatry and general practice.