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Alice Maclaine
Child development and education expert. Qualified Montessori teacher and children’s yoga teacher – including children with special needs.
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Stage 4 – 9 months

When will my baby reach for things?

It is a lovely milestone in your baby's physical development when he has the motor control to look at an object and reach out accurately and grasp it. However, your baby needs to learn to co-ordinate his visual system and work out where the object is in space and then instruct his hands and arms (that he has only just learnt to move) to move in complete coordination to reach out and grasp at the object. At first, this is a really complicated task so give your baby lots of time to look and slowly reach for a favoured object in front of them.
Video Tutorial
In Short
A newborn baby has an automatic grasp reflex. 

By around two months the baby’s cortex starts to take over in its brain, giving more voluntary control of movement to the baby. 

The ability to make a controlled grasp develops soon after at around four months.  This is part of the baby’s instinctive drive to learn to use tools, an inherent part of being human. 

At first, your baby will need to have a long time to look at an object before they can attempt to reach for it so be really patient and give them all the time they need.

Hand-eye coordination

From around four months the hand-eye coordination is really starting to develop and it may be that your baby isn’t quite there yet and it’s really important to give them the time and the space to try these things out. So if you are holding something up, they may see the object and then look at their hand and then look at the object again and it might take them quite a while before they’re actually ready to reach out and take it, and if you give up before that time then you’re missing out on something. So it’s really important to be very present and allow things to happen at their own pace.

As parents, because we can grasp these things quite easily, we don’t necessarily wait for the amount of time that a baby would need to do the same task. You can help your baby along by being patient, holding something out for them and keep it there for a long time so they can practise reaching towards it and eventually holding on.


Babies should not show a preference for one hand over the other until about 18 months of age so if your baby always favours one hand and arm it’s worth getting him checked out by your doctor in case he has an injury or a difficulty in using the non-favoured side.

Finer coordination

At first, your baby will reach for an object and grasp it with a whole palm grasp. This makes manipulating the object they are holding very challenging. Babies grasp food and crayons in their fist and use their whole arm to move it around. However, in human beings (and human beings alone with their unique opposible thumbs) finer coordination takes over. One of the physical things that sets us apart from nearly every other animal is our opposable thumbs and forefingers. By around 12 months, you can help your baby to practice picking up objects with fingers and thumb rather than with his first. Try safe small treats like raisins that won’t roll away and let him have plenty of practice as it’s a whole new system of physical development.

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This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.