When a woman is expecting a baby, everything is about the new bundle that’s about to arrive. From a 100-piece layette to every piece of baby gear imaginable, there’s a lot to consider. But something moms don’t often think about is just how much daily living can affect a newborn’s senses.
From eating to sleeping to going potty, everything is brand-new for your newborn. New sights, new sounds, and a whole lot of new people. Being a “fetus” is a world away from being a “newborn”- a tiny human with an identity and a personality. From the moment a baby enters the world, he or she is truly a person in every sense of the word. Even day-old infants have preferences about their food, their sleep, and their parents. Sure, most newborns want mom, but babies have the ability to recognize caregivers and respond to them.
Feeding, changing, and clothing your baby are probably the top priorities following his or her birth. And even if you struggle to get by, most parents exit the newborn stage with their bodies intact- if not their dignity. Still, what if you could do more to make sure your newborn is getting the best start in life?
While most moms recognize that keeping their babies fed and safe from harm are basics, there are a lot of other things that can make baby’s transition into the world more difficult.
15 Where’s The White Noise
While you may think it’s nice and serene in the womb, there’s actually a lot of noise going on. Between the swooshing of mom’s blood, the sloshing of the amniotic fluid, and the beating of mom’s heart, there’s plenty happening. Plus, babies can hear voices and feel the vibrations when mom talks- or when she listens to loud music.
But once a baby leaves the womb, the noises all change. The lack of those familiar noises can make baby cranky or even scare him. That’s why many moms turn to white noise machines to keep babies calm. When they hear womb-like noises, babies tend to relax.
It seems strange but running the vacuum cleaner is one trick many moms of light sleepers swear by. It sounds loud to us, but to babies, it mimics the noises of the womb. There are also apps and CDs for white noise with everything from crackling static sounds to running water. You can also use a good old-fashioned fan to create background noise.
Some babies could care less about white noise- in fact, the quieter the environment the better. But for those that need background noise, there are a lot of options for making it happen.
14 Sensitive To Sounds
Most of the time, parents try to avoid waking the new baby. She needs her sleep, after all. But sometimes it’s hard to maintain total silence. Unfortunately, even the smallest noises can wake a sleeping baby or otherwise disturb her. While babies grow accustomed to background noise in the womb, the noises of the outside world are all new and awfully intimidating.
Most moms probably don’t think about the beeping of their cell phones, for example, causing issues for the baby. But when she was in the belly, there was a ton of fluid that made a buffer against the noises from outside. So what sounds familiar to the baby isn’t what you might expect.
While babies often seem to recognize mom and dad’s voices, those sounds and others can become distorted through all the amniotic fluid. That means that sounds like the microwave beeping, the door closing, or the fridge opening can all sound “off” to a baby.
Luckily, most noises won’t harm babies’ ears. They can usually get used to hearing the noises of everyday life. And even if they wake up to small noises, a newborn should adjust sooner or later to these annoying noises. Some parents may even get lucky with a baby who sleeps through anything!
13 High Pitches Mean Pain
There’s a reason we see babies wearing cute little headphones at racing events and fireworks displays. It’s because loud noises can actually damage babies’ ears. If they are exposed to loud noises long-term, babies can even develop permanent hearing loss.
According to Livestrong, a safe noise level is anything under 80 decibels. That is about the level of noise you can expect to hear in a restaurant or in city street traffic, they explain. For reference, normal conversation takes place at a level of around 60 decibels.
But it’s not just jet airplanes and race cars that are too loud for babies. Some toys are excessively loud, especially if they’re close to baby’s ears. Avoid loud toys for your newborn, and keep even quieter toys away from her ears for maximum safety.
You can also buy noise-canceling headphones or other ear protection for your newborn if there are a lot of unpredictable loud noises near you. For example, construction work or street festivals and fireworks might happen often enough to hurt baby’s ears.
But if your baby hears a loud siren or a jackhammer, don’t panic just yet. Most hearing damage happens over time, Livestrong explains. Repeated exposure to loud noises is what most often causes hearing loss, so a big “boom” every now and then shouldn’t cause long-term issues.
12 Strong Smells Linger
While your baby probably doesn’t care that you haven’t bathed in a few days or that there’s dried milk on your shirt, he can probably smell both of those things. Science says that babies can smell more than we suspect when they’re brand-new.
While science has already shown us that babies can smell mom (and crawl to her breast for milk at just moments old), what else can they smell?
According to Parenting Science, experiments have shown that newborns recognize the scent of amniotic fluid. They also like the scent of breastmilk. Even formula-fed babies showed a preference for the smell of human milk, even when it didn’t come from their moms.
Babies can even recognize their caregivers based on scent alone, some studies suggest. Therefore, bad smells like the kitchen trash can or a dirty diaper probably bug the baby more than we would think. Older babies often begin to grimace or make other faces when mom or dad starts diapering them, and it might just be because they can smell it!
While there’s no remedy for avoiding smelly diapers or many other everyday scents, other strong odors might bug your baby. Think about having baby in another room while you chop onions, avoid harsh chemical odors in cleaners, and skip scented sprays unless absolutely necessary.
11 Bright Light Is Bothersome
Newborn babies don’t see well at first, Parenting Science explains. They don’t have true depth perception until around 4 months old. Their vision is very blurry at first, so staying close to mom helps them feel secure. Over time, their vision sharpens.
At first, babies seek out contrast, and bright light from lamps or ceiling fixtures fulfills that need. Because they can’t see much, a bright light stands out and looks appealing. But although bright light probably won’t hurt your baby’s vision, it might bother him enough to mess with his sleeping habits.
Babies’ eyes are sensitive to bright light, so they might prefer to keep them closed when it’s sunny out or when you have the lights on. They’re also more likely to open their eyes and check things out when the light is low.
This is part of the reason why midwives and other medical professionals keep the light low when mom is laboring. The moment baby comes out, he or she can start focusing on mom with eyes wide open.
But even though brightness is bothersome to new babies, it won’t hurt them, doctors say. Plenty of moms in online forums ask whether a camera flash or other light is harmful for babies. Doctors’ responses? One who performs surgery on babies explained that surgeons use bright lights directly in babies’ eyes, and none have gone blind yet.
10 Color Scheme Confusion
The same way that babies struggle to focus on light and objects in their first few months, their ability to see color is also low. For example, Parenting Science summarized that 4-day-old infants could tell the difference between white and orange. However, they couldn’t tell the difference between white and yellow-green shades. They also struggle to see dark blue.
By three weeks old, some babies can tell red from green. But at four weeks, many babies can’t tell red from yellow. Their vision sharpens over the next few weeks, however, and by eight weeks old, most babies have better color perception. They can distinguish between red and white, for example, but still struggle with yellow and yellow-greens, plus some shades of purple.
Apart from choosing a color scheme for the nursery, what does this mean for your newborn?
All your critical color-choosing time could have been better spent. That colorful mobile you chose may look more “blah” to your baby. That doesn’t mean the movement isn’t interesting to him, but experts suggest that higher color contrast is easier for babies to recognize. That said, watching their moms move around is plenty of entertainment and helps babies’ development, studies have found.
9 Emotional Mama
People often tell pregnant women to get a grip on their emotions to protect their babies. There’s a pervasive idea that what happens to mom while she’s expecting can impact a baby for the rest of his life. But is that true?
According to What to Expect,
babies can pick up on their moms’ stress. They also “show physiological changes of their own” in response to mom’s stress.
The same way that couples can experience “emotional synchrony,” where both partners pick up on each other’s feelings, often unconsciously, so can mom and baby dyads.
Newborns depend on their mamas for nearly every need, so it makes sense for them to be so deeply attached. But that also means moms have to be careful to keep calm so they don’t stress the baby. From struggling with breastfeeding to dealing with postpartum depression, there are a lot of ways mom’s feelings can seep into daily life.
Studies show that even if mom experiences stress without her little one in tow, the baby tunes into her emotions when she returns. Moral of the story? Don’t stress and freak out your baby- work on calming yourself and possibly seeking professional help if you feel it’s necessary.
8 When Mom Gets Mad
The same way that babies tune in to moms’ stress, they also tune in when she’s feeling angry. Of course, moms of older kids make their anger known in plenty of ways. But moms of newborns are experiencing a rush of hormones as they adjust to caring for a tiny human 24/7. It’s a unique and challenging time in a mom’s life, and it’s understandable if she’s not 100 percent positive all the time.
While it’s impossible to keep all negative emotions out of the equation when it comes to parenting, moms of newborns should recognize how tightly they are connected to their little ones. Plus, getting angry at your newborn for crying, not sleeping, or failing to breastfeed won’t help matters at all. Those are things that babies do, and no matter how sleep-deprived you are, you’ll feel awful later if you snap while caring for the baby.
Even the tiniest infants can hear mom’s yelling and feel scared. They may start to cry or just startle from sleep. Plus, if anyone gets loud, that can interrupt baby’s sleep and hurt her ears, too.
If you’re one of those Zen moms who never gets angry, you’ll likely be able to keep your temper under control even while parenting a newborn. Otherwise, find a release mechanism so you don’t wind up scolding your baby.
7 Turn Down The Heat
Newborn babies love to be snuggled close to mom. After all, they’ve spent ten months tucked away in an internal hot tub that’s climate-controlled. But in the real world, temperature fluctuations can bother the baby.
When they first exit the womb, they’ll feel cold and wet. But after, moms tend to swaddle and hold their babies close.
Mom’s body heat helps regulate the baby’s, but there is such a thing as too much closeness. Babies can become overheated easily- especially when they’re little portable heaters like mine were.
Some babies are naturally warmer than others, and my two ran on high heat from birth. While I didn’t take them outdoors in below 40-degree weather in a onesie, they didn’t need quite as many layers as other tots when we went out.
Most people wind up overcompensating for the weather conditions, overdressing versus underdressing the baby. But overheating an infant has serious consequences like organ failure or heat stroke. According to the National Institutes of Health, babies have an increased risk of SIDS when the room they sleep in is too warm.
Parents should keep babies’ rooms a comfortable temperature that feels good to adults wearing normal clothing, the NIH suggests. Infants should wear light clothing to prevent overheating, and they shouldn’t have fluffy blankets or other loose items in their sleeping area.
6 Bundling Up
Although overheating is dangerous for babies, being too cold is also a risk. Some babies will cry when they begin to feel cold, but others can sleep through it. That means it’s up to parents to perform regular temperature checks, especially in colder weather.
Part of the increased SIDS risk that the National Institute of Health reported on had to do with over-bundling babies in cold weather. Parents crank up the heat and pile blankets and heavy pajamas on sleeping babies, and more babies experience heatstroke or SIDS.
But being cold is bad, too. Babies can’t regulate their temperature well, the NIH notes. Room temperatures should be kept comfortable, with a light blanket over baby if necessary. And the blanket should reach no higher than the baby’s chest. Blankets should also be tucked under the mattress so they don’t become a suffocation hazard.
Being cold is uncomfortable and puts babies at risk for getting ill, but in extreme cases, babies can develop frostbite and sustain lifelong injuries. Obviously, no conscientious parent is going to take their newborn out of the house in a onesie with no socks in subzero temperatures, but keeping a blanket on hand is always a smart idea when it’s chilly out.
5 Synchronizing Sleep
Babies are known for having wild sleep patterns. When you’re new to the world, it’s hard to adjust to sleeping when everyone else does. Especially for newborns, sleep often happens in one-hour increments. They’ll wake to eat and sometimes wake when their diaper is wet or soiled, and they don’t care whether it’s high noon or hours past midnight.
So baby’s frequent waking bothers parents, but what about sleep bothers the babies? When parents try and force sleep schedules, it can cause problems for the baby.
Not only is it impossible to put a baby to sleep when she’s not tired, it’s not reasonable to expect a newborn to sleep through the night- or even a four-hour or so period.
Sleep-deprived parents might be desperate for a few winks, but trying to schedule feedings and withhold the breast or bottle when a baby wakes at night isn’t good for her development. Newborns are needy creatures, and it’s an ingrained survival mechanism.
Fortunately, most babies often self-regulate their own feeding and sleeping schedules. That means most parents only have to make it through a few months at most of sleeping in short shifts. Unfortunately, some parents deal with night waking through the preschool years and beyond, so good luck with the odds on that one.
4 Taste Testing
Babies are born with relatively inexperienced taste buds. Their first few months of life, their senses of sweet, salt, bitter, sour, and umami flavors are subdued, Parenting Science explains. But babies can at least somewhat sense all of these items- except for saltiness. This develops around four months old, experts say- so that means nursing moms can eat all the salty food they want without bothering the baby.
However, since babies can taste all the other flavors- including the meaty, savory taste “umami”- moms might be surprised when their little ones begin refusing the breast. If you eat something especially pungent or flavorful, your baby might taste it in your breastmilk and think twice about sampling it.
For moms who pump, there’s also the fact that milk can actually “go bad” once it’s in the fridge or freezer. This happens because of high levels of lipase in the milk, the San Diego Breastfeeding Center explains. Lipase is an enzyme that helps break down the fat in the breastmilk, but too much of it makes the breakdown process happen faster. Excess lipase causes a “soapy” taste and/or smell, and some babies will outright refuse to drink such milk.
Some babies will drink odd-tasting milk with no complaints, but others will let their dissatisfaction be known.
3 Suddenly Startled
Have you ever bought a pet, a small rodent or other animals, and been told to approach it where it can see you? You don’t want to sneak up on a small animal, and the same rule applies to babies. We’ve already discussed how poor their vision is at first, so they may not see you coming from far away.
Even newborn babies have built-in reflexes that can trigger anytime. One of these is the Moro or “startle” reflex. It’s present in all newborns and usually lasts until they’re around 3 or 4 months old, Mama Natural explains.
Babies also have eight other reflexes, but Moro is the one parents notice most often. Sleeping babies show the Moro reflex when they startle suddenly.
Rather than waking up gradually and stretching, babies will wake up quickly when startled. They often inhale sharply, and their arms immediately raise above their heads.
Think of when you’re about to fall asleep and you suddenly feel like you’re falling. It jolts you awake, and then you have trouble falling back asleep. Babies are the same way, so you can expect to have to console your newborn if he startles awake unexpectedly. The good news is, a Moro reflex in a newborn is a positive thing as it indicates a healthy nervous system.
2 Stuck With Swaddling
Swaddling seems to be all the rage with parents of newborns. The idea is that tightly swaddling a baby reminds him of his cozy spot in mom’s womb. It’s also meant to restrain babies’ arms and legs so that they can’t kick or flop their way awake. Many babies have trouble sleeping when their arms and legs keep trying to do their own thing. Other babies might accidentally hit themselves while sleeping.
Swaddling can take care of all those problems. But for some babies, it’s downright uncomfortable.
Research has shown that swaddling improperly can cause hip dysplasia. This happens when the legs are swaddled sticking straight out, with no space between the knees. Experts recommend swaddling only babies’ arms, leaving their legs bent naturally.
But beyond risks of developing hip problems, some babies just don’t enjoy being swaddled. They may want to move their arms around, put their hands in their mouths, or wiggle around the crib or bassinet. For older babies, being un-swaddled can help them reposition at night without waking themselves up.
It’s bad news for expectant moms and dads who went all-out on the newest swaddling blankets, but it’s good news if baby stays asleep without swaddling help.
1 Sensory Overload
When you think about life inside the womb, it’s no wonder so many things outside in the world bother newborn babies. Amniotic fluid is body-temperature and never fluctuates. Noises are distant and the only disturbance is a little rocking and vibrating from time to time. Babies sleep and “eat” whenever they need to, and there are no cold and uncomfortable diaper changes to deal with.
Then they’re born, and as if it’s not enough of a shock leaving their tidy little home in mom’s uterus, there are new sights, sounds, and smells to experience. Most newborns are placed on mom’s warm chest right after birth, but within a few hours, even that changes.
Most parents put diapers and clothing on their babies within an hour or so of their births. Sure, we don’t want to wear that first poo, but most moms and dads don’t stop to think about how sensitive baby’s brand-new skin is.
Diapers can be uncomfortable, even causing rashes within the first few uses, and tags or buttons might poke against baby’s skin. Then there’s the umbilical cord clamp that may be plastic and pokey.
Still, clothing and diapers are necessities for newborn care, but parents may want to look for the most sensory-friendly options possible so baby can be comfortable in his first few months of life.