What Causes a Clenched Fist in Infants?

Newborn babies are full of awkward and unusual characteristics that may surprise you. Not only do newborns often have wrinkled and purple fingers and toes, but they may also do peculiar things with their hands, such as keeping them clenched tightly. Clenched fists in newborns are normal, but if you are worried, talk to your pediatrician.

Newborn Position

Through the first few weeks of life, newborn babies often will retain the position they were in while confined inside the uterus. They will keep their arms and legs close to their bodies and keep their hands clenched. It will take weeks after she is born for your infant to begin opening and closing her hands.

Grasping Reflex

If you can pry your newborn's fingers to open his hand, you will notice that he has an extremely strong grasping reflex. This is the same reflex that keeps him from opening his hands, the KidsHealth website explains, because the feeling of his fingers touching his palm causes him to close his hands tight and leave them that way. It will be a while before your baby realizes that his hands are a part of his body and that he can control their movement. By about six weeks of age, your baby will attempt to open one hand with the other before he even realizes the hand is his own.

Open-Handed Milestone

Within the first three months of life, your baby will gradually begin opening and closing her hands and you will start to see the tight, clenched fist turn into a primarily open and relaxed hand. Your baby will even begin batting at objects and reaching for toys that dangle above her. As your baby develops and learns about her environment, her hands and the rest of her body will become more relaxed and less tight and closed.

Warnings

A clenched fist that is accompanied by all-around body stiffness may be a sign of something serious, the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford University warns. Cerebral palsy, a term that describes many neurological disorders, is a condition in which your baby's brain has trouble connecting with and directing the muscles to perform various movements. Involuntary, spastic or rigid movements, muscle weakness and poor motor control are signs of the condition. If you are worried that your baby may have an underlying condition that is causing his clenched fists, consult your pediatrician.

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