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Understanding Newborn Characteristics and Development

The Newborn's Physical Development: Fine Motor Skills

As we explained on the previous page, your baby's physical skills develop by progressing from the torso outward to the fingers. She has no ability to control her movements as a newborn, and really no concept that her body is her own. But she is a quick learner and she rapidly develops muscle "commands" through trial and error. On this page, we'll take a look at her fine motor skills from her first days through her first birthday.

Coordinating Hand and Eye

First six months.

As your newborn looks about her world, her own fisted hand randomly passes through her field of vision. This strange object may interest her, but she has no idea of what it is or how it got there. By compelling her arm to extend in front of her face when she turns her head to the side, the tonic neck reflex creates plenty of opportunities for her to study her hand. You'll find that during the first six weeks, she devotes more and more time to regarding her own fisted hand.


As the grasp reflex fades, she is increasingly able to unclench her fist. Similarly, her body unwinds from its flexed position. As the tonic neck reflex disappears, she spends more time looking up rather than looking to the side when she lies on her back. Hand-to-mouth activity, which began as a reflex at birth, becomes a more deliberate, conscious act. She moves her hands over her chest where she can look at them, explore them with her mouth, and finger one with the other.

Until three months of age, she looks at objects without touching them and fingers objects absently without looking at them. Then, the two systems for examining the world fuse. She feels something and turns her head to see what it is. She sees something interesting and reaches out to learn more about it by touch.

Her first attempts at hand contact consist of broad swipes. Her entire arm sweeps in a grand gesture as she bats at, and occasionally contacts, an object. The process of gaining coordination of her arms begins closest to her body-at the shoulder. At 6 to 14 weeks, sturdy objects suspended within an arm's length of your baby make good toys.

After this swiping period, you may notice your baby begins to make slow, labored attempts to reach out and touch an object with one or both hands. If you watch carefully, you might see her glance back and forth between the object and her hand as she calculates the remaining distance. Having not yet mastered the correct sequence for grasping, she may close her fist before she reaches the object. During this time (between 14 and 23 weeks), try to be patient when you hand her a toy. Give her plenty of time as she laboriously tries to reach out and grasp it. Practicing this sort of hand-eye coordination is important for her development.

Between 4 and 6 1/2 months, she masters the ability to smoothly lift her hand and accurately grasp an object. This is the time to introduce toys that help her to learn cause and effect, such as squeaky ducks or spinning bathtub toys.

Six to eight months.

During her sixth through eighth months, your baby avidly explores everything in sight with her eyes, hands, and mouth. She uses both hands simultaneously to explore objects; while holding an object in each hand, for instance, she may delight in banging the two together. Given a small block, she can transfer it from one hand to the other.

At six months of age, most babies can deliberately, but perhaps awkwardly, let go of an object. By ten months, your baby is quite adept at uncurling her fingers at will to release an object. Over and over, she grasps something and drops it for the sheer pleasure of watching it fall. For a while, she relies upon you to retrieve these objects.

Eight to fourteen months.

Between the ages of 8 and 14 months, your baby may spend long periods of time examining small objects. She learns to prod an object with a single index finger. Rather than raking at an object with her whole hand, she begins to oppose her thumb and index finger in a pincer grasp to pick up a small object. At first, your baby may need to steady the side of her hand against a firm surface as she learns the pincer grasp. By her first birthday, your child is an expert at plucking the smallest crumbs from the kitchen floor.

Your doctor keeps track of when your baby masters these motor skills. You may also keep a record that you can share with your child when he's a little older. He'll probably find it difficult to believe that there was a time he couldn't walk, much less lift his head!

From the moment you welcome your newborn to the world, you'll be constantly amazed by her. It's humbling to watch your baby progress through the milestones of newborn development, and a joy to celebrate each of these victories with her!

©Publications International, Ltd.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

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