When babies first start to eat, around 6 months of age, they have what’s called a “palmar grasp.” This is where together their fingers can curl in towards their palm, allowing them to hold objects in the middle of their hand.
This is what allows them to hold larger items of food in their hand such as toys, teethers and sticks of food. It’s also why we recommend that when starting out with finger foods, they’re offered in stick shaped pieces, roughly the size and shape of an adult’s finger.
This allows babies to get a good grip on them and bring them to their mouth to eat.
Around the age of 9 months, babies start to develop and hone the “pincer grip”. This is when they develop coordination between their finger and thumb, allowing them to use just the finger & thumb to pick up much smaller items.
This is an important functional skill for many things as adults, for example holding a pencil or doing up a zip or buttons on a shirt. For babies, however, it’s a skill that they first need to develop and perfect over time.
What age should babies have a pincer grasp?
All babies develop at different rates and so they will have perfected their pincer grasp at different times. Some babies may start to show competency with smaller items closer to 7 months. Most babies will start to show signs of developing the pincer grasp around 8 months, and most will be quite competent with it around 9 months. Don’t worry if your baby is older than 9 months and hasn’t quite perfected it. Give them plenty of opportunity and practice and they will get there!
How to improve baby’s pincer grasp
The best way for babies to improve their pincer grasp is through plenty of practice. You can offer them smaller pieces of low-risk foods (food that’s very soft & squashes easily between finger and thumb) to help them practice picking them up and self-feeding with them. Good foods to offer may include:
- Smaller pieces of softly cooked potato or potato tots
- Squashed blueberries
- Softly cooked beans, mashed slightly with a fork
- Slightly mashed cooked peas
- Small pieces of well-cooked pasta
- Grated apple or cheese
You’ll probably find that as your little one experiments more and more with finger foods that they will start to drop pieces of food and start exploring that pincer grip to pick up stray bits of food from their plate and this is how it all starts, so keep encouraging them to do this and role model doing it yourself.
As baby is developing this skill, it’s important to keep offering pieces and sizes of foods that your little one can more easily manage at the same time too. This ensures that they’re able to eat something on the plate whilst also practicing with the smaller pieces and can help avoid frustration which sometimes comes with not having perfected the skill just yet.
Other activities you can do to help improve your baby’s pincer grip include:
- Rolemodel using the pincer grip yourself
- Give them lots of smaller pieces of toys to explore, whilst you’re sitting with them (in case of choking hazard)
- Start offering smaller pieces of soft foods and lumpier textures in their purees too
- Make sure you offer a variety of textures to your baby to encourage them to keep exploring and developing their self-feeding and oral motor skills
Pincer grasp activities for babies
Once your baby has developed their pincer grasp and is getting more competent with handling small pieces of food, you can start to offer them more food in this way. This can often be a lot less messy and is a step towards them eating more similar foods to us as adults. Some great ways to include foods that baby can practice their pincer grasp with are:
- Small squares of toast with a light spread of topping
- Omelette chopped up into small pieces
- Grated cheese
- Peas and sweetcorn
- Pieces of tofu, soft cooked chicken or fish
- Smaller pieces of soft fruits
These are also good options for babies to practice using their fork to pick up smaller pieces, and allows them to pick them up themselves if they struggle!
For more on offering finger foods to babies between 6-12 months, check my blog.
And also how to start your baby on solid foods, along with plenty of family friendly recipes, How To Wean Your Baby is available.