Encouraging early looking, reaching and grasping (0-4 months)

Infants start to reach toward interesting objects that catch their attention and are within reaching distance. Over the first few months their reaching becomes more accurate and they learn to position their hands and open the fingers in readiness for grasping. Once they get hold of a toy they will pull, push or shake it to see what happens.

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This early experience is important for developing coordination between the head, trunk and arm movements. In order to reach successfully the infant needs to learn to stabilize the head and trunk to provide a stable base for the movement of the arm. 

Early focused looking, reaching and grasping experience also  "trains" the movement brain how to use visual information about the position of the toy to plan and execute the reaching and grasping actions with ever greater accuracy. 

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Premature infants are often less active at reaching for toys and may need some encouragement to get them going.   Premature infants start off at a disadvantage when it comes to reaching up when in lying.  At rest premature infants tend to lie with their arms extended and flat on the mattress. Lifting their arms takes more effort. They also tend to develop some tightness in the neck  and shoulder extensor muscles. 

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How to get your infant reaching more

Take time to play with you infant

Your voice and face are your most powerful tools to encourage your infant to stop, look and listen.  Infants also find hands very interesting. 

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An infant play gym is a must

An infant gym with carefully selected and positioned toys allows your infant to work on reaching skills at his own pace in his own way. 

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Providing some head and trunk support encourages reaching

Use a blanket roll or feeding pillow to provide your infant with some support to make reaching easier.  A feeding pillow helps to support the head in midline and gently brings the arms forwards so that reaching up requires less effort.  

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A soft bouncy chair is a great investment

Once your infant is able to hold the head steady in the middle he/she is ready to spend time in a bouncy chair. 

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Gentle stretches for the neck and shoulders

Some premature infants develop tightness in the neck and shoulder muscles which makes reaching forwards a bit "sticky".   Provided that your infant has a stable airway and has developed some head control you can introduce some gentle stretches for these muscles, at about 4-5 months corrected age.