Image: North Carolina Zoo
Babies are full of amazing traits. From the moment your newborn emerges, he begins to show a veritable smorgasbord of uncannny abilities that would blow your mind if you weren’t too tired to notice. (No, I know, you notice. Every. Single. Moment. Even the boring bits.)
But there is one thing that all babies do, that is particularly fascinating. It’s called the Palmar Grasp and it’s the reflex responsible for those strong little fist clenches.
Have you noticed that when you tickle your bub’s palm, or put your fingers out for him to hold, he seems to clench with superhuman strength? That’s all thanks to his Palmar Grasp reflex. In fact, some 37 percent of infants are actually able to support their own weight when they’re grasping a rod.
But why do they do it?
The most logical explanation comes from the research that says we do it because the monkeys did it, and they’re our ancestors. Or to be more specific, “Modern human evolved from a lineage of upright-walking apes that has been traced back over six million years ago to Sahelanthropus”.
This means that, far from having the convenience of Bugaboos and baby carriers, the little baby ape versions of us had to hold on for dear life to mum’s thick hair if they were to survive and not be left behind.
Not only that, but sticking with mum involved some seriously precarious positions. Without that vice-like grip, getting a ticklish nose while mum dangles from the treetops wouldn’t be as easily dealt with as it is here:
And with all the sleeping that newborns do, having a grip that works – whether they’re awake or not – will ensure a speedy escape for mum and bub is possible if predators are around.
And you know what? Our feet do it too!
The sweetest thing is that it’s not just the palms that continue to carry this primitive trait. Have you noticed your newborn’s toes seem constantly clenched too? Well it’s not just because he’s still trying to squish back into the womb, the Plantar Grasp was just as important for holding onto mum while she searched for food or sprinted from predators.