Baby toes are so cute!
As you play with your baby’s feet and you watch how they move, you’ll notice they randomly clench and unclench their toes.
Those tiny little toes almost look like they’re operating independently of your baby.
But it’s actually quite a normal part of infant development.
When do babies stop curling their toes?
The answer to this question includes some interesting facts about your baby’s development.
Read on to learn how your baby’s random movements have a purpose, and how you can support your baby through each stage of development.
Why do babies curl their toes when you touch them?
Newborn babies are born with several reflexes. These are actions that happen without any thought, and each one is a response to a specific stimulus.
There are 3 newborn reflexes that involve the feet:
|Babinski||Stroke along sole of foot from heel to toe||Toes fan out, big toe flexes|
|Plantar grasp||Press behind toes on sole of foot||Toes grasp your finger|
|Stepping||Baby is held upright and soles of feet are placed on hard surface; baby is tipped slightly forward||Infant steps forward with one foot and then the other as if walking|
The Babinski reflex
This is a primitive reflex your doctor or midwife will check for during the newborn exam. Its presence is normal until your baby starts walking at about 1 year of age.
If this or other reflexes persist and your child has delayed motor skills or poor hand-eye coordination, it could be a sign of impaired neurological development.
Check in with your pediatrician if this is the case.
The grasp reflex (palmar and plantar)
At birth, a baby’s toes can grasp just as the hands do. This is called the plantar grasp reflex. If you touch the sole of your baby’s foot, she will flex, then curl, her toes.
The grasping reflex of the hand is called the palmar grasp reflex. When you put your finger in your baby’s hand, she will take hold of it.
The palmar reflex has been observed on ultrasound in babies as early as 25 weeks. Newborns spend much of their time with clenched fists and curled toes because of these reflexes.
Your baby will start to have more relaxed palms at about 8 weeks of age, but this reflex in the hands doesn’t fully disappear until 3-4 months.
The plantar grasp reflexes are present until about 9-12 months when baby begins walking. So in answer to the question, ‘When do babies stop curling their toes?’ it’s usually when this grasp reflex disappears because your baby has started to walk.
The stepping reflex
If you hold baby upright on a firm surface and tip her upper body forward, she will move one foot and then the other as if she’s walking.
This stepping reflex is present for about 6-8 weeks. It then seems to disappear for several months, and then reappears around the time babies begin to walk.
Why do newborns have reflexes?
Many reflexes that are present throughout the newborn period disappear as the brain and central nervous develop over the first few months.
Babies are born with reflexes that have a purpose for their survival.
For example, if you stroke a baby’s cheek, she will automatically search for the nipple. This reflex, and the sucking reflex, both aid in breastfeeding. These automatic reflexes become voluntary movements after a few months.
The Babinski response is the spreading of the toes. This helps babies when they begin commando crawling, as their toes push off the ground and propel them forward.
The grasping reflexes of both the hand and the toes are there to help babies hold on to their caregivers.
The grabbing motions your baby makes, as she reaches for you and grasps you, also help you bond with your baby.
The stepping reflex is very interesting. Its first purpose is seen immediately after birth.
When your baby is placed on your chest, the stepping reflex (stepping with one foot and then the other) can help push your baby towards your breast to start feeding.
The ‘breast crawl’ can be observed when mother and baby are left undisturbed for the first hour after birth.
The stepping reflex is also useful for the mother. A newborn’s ‘stepping’ motions actually massage the newly empty uterus and help control bleeding after the birth.
When babies do this stepping motion with their feet and legs, and find the nipple with their hands and mouth, both movements stimulate the uterus to contract.
Although the stepping reflex seems to disappear after several weeks, you will see your baby continue the motion of moving first one foot and then the other when she lies on her back and kicks.
These motions strengthen the muscles of the legs in preparation for crawling, and later for walking.
Baby curls toes when sitting
As your baby grows and develops, she starts to learn things about her body that she didn’t know existed.
There are also plenty of interesting surfaces to touch and sensations to explore.
Most babies will curl their toes when they’re sitting, as a response to a surface – just as they do when you touch their feet.
Some babies don’t enjoy those new sensations, or they feel they’re being ‘tickled’ – so they clench their toes. It’s very cute and normal for this reflex to be evident until babies are around 9 months old.
Baby curls toes when standing
Curly toes is a common condition that is different from reflexes.
It happens from birth, and tends to occur in the third and fourth toes of both feet.
It’s more apparent when your child starts to stand. The tendons that bend the toes are too tight, causing the toes to curl under towards the sole of the foot.
Curly toes is known to run in families. So if you or your child’s other parent had curly toes, it’s likely your baby will too.
Baby curls toes when walking
Curly toes is more obvious when your baby starts walking. It’s not a real problem, except it can cause:
- Sores or blisters, from pressure
- Toenails to flatten and thicken
- Sore feet from certain activities.
It’s important to avoid putting hard shoes on your baby when she first begins to walk. It can cause discomfort but it also restricts your baby’s natural foot movement.
Quite often, curly toes will correct themselves in the first five years, as your child grows.
See a paediatric podiatrist if you’re concerned about your child’s toes or feet.
Baby equipment to avoid
There are many different gadgets on the market, seen as necessary to help our babies’ development.
These products might have a place in helping us in our busy lives; it’s also important to know they can be detrimental to a baby’s normal development, if they are overused or misused.
Baby bouncers, jumpers, exersaucers, and baby seats are all things that can help you keep your baby contained as you do necessary tasks around the house.
But experts warn against using these tools more than absolutely necessary, and for no more than 10-15 minutes a day.
The way in which these gadgets support babies isn’t optimal for the movement and development of their muscles.
Baby seats and baby jumpers can cause improper alignment of the spine.
Exersaucers can cause stress to ankle and leg joints, and lead to future ‘toe-walking’ as a result of decreased glute muscle strength.
Give your baby plenty of time on the floor. This allows for all the movements that babies naturally make, and supports normal motor development.
Ways to support natural development
There are some items that support your child’s motor development and are also helpful to you as a busy parent.
Consider these alternatives:
- Babywearing with a wrap, sling, or carrier. ‘Wearing’ your baby gives her natural ‘tummy time’ if she is facing you. It also stimulates the vestibular system (an internal system that helps balance and coordination)
- Make a safe space on the floor, with a blanket and a few toys. Your baby will be able to explore, with your supervision
- Have a playpen or play yard to give your baby a safe place to explore while protected from siblings and pets. You can block off access to unsafe parts of your house with baby gates.
We’re always excited about each new stage of development. It’s tempting to prop our babies up to sit, or to help them stand and walk.
We should trust in our baby’s natural abilities. Providing them with a safe environment to explore is more important than buying expensive equipment that might actually delay their skills.