The joy of holding a newborn is unmatchable. Holding a little creature with soft skin and tiny cute hands and feet that no one can resist. Even after hours of labor or the head-numbing dizziness of general anesthesia, a mother will happily smile and look with wonder and awe at her little baby. Fresh out of the womb, babies can't talk. They can only express themselves through crying when they need something. Other than that, newborns are marvellous creatures that one cannot stop looking at, especially in their sleep when they are the calmest and most peaceful. Amazing as they are, we cannot crack the code of exactly what they are thinking at a specific moment or how they feel about a certain change in the environment.
Their lack of communication methods makes babies a huge mystery. They cry at times and no one knows what to do about it. A bigger mystery is what they see, think and feel. As adults, we're able to use our five senses to explore the world around us, communicate our needs and act to reach them. Newborn babies, on the other hand, are a big enigma. Science has researched many of the biological aspects regarding baby's’ senses, and we now know a great deal about how they see the world around them and how they feel about it.
Here, we display 15 ways in which newborn babies interact with the world and how their senses work to help them experience their surroundings.
15 Seeing Light
Vision is one of the most important ways a baby is able to process what's going on around them. Babies are born with their vision sense developed. They can't see exactly as adults do, but they are able to distinguish light and dark. They can be alarmed by sudden light and are able to settle down when placed in darkness for some time. This difference helps parents establish day and night routines that babies settle into gradually.
The sense of light is also apparent when on the go. If a baby is out and about with the mother, the baby can change their face if hit by sunlight. Sudden flashes of light, natural or artificial, can get in the way of the baby falling asleep. Interestingly, they are more sensitive to light than adults. That is, they open their eye wide in low light, because to them the light is brighter than we think.
14 Taking In Faces
Newborn babies can see things that are 8-12 inches away from their eyes. This is why the first thing they recognize is their mothers’ faces. This distance is the distance between the baby and his mother’s face during breastfeeding. Additionally, a mother is usually the one who holds the baby the most during the first few weeks and months. This usually takes some time, because even when the baby knows the mother, the sense of vision is blurry at first.
Babies also associate the mother’s face with the comfort of breastfeeding or formula feeding, because she soothes the hunger. Gradually, a baby starts recognizing more faces. Mostly, if a father is available to see the baby most of the day, the baby is able to see and identify his face, too. Otherwise, the baby begins to know other faces who care for him or her, like a grandparent or a nanny. It's normal for a newborn to seem cross-eyed as he or she looks at a person. This subsides on its own as babies grow and they learn how to focus better.
13 Distinguishing Colors And Patterns
Color vision is not something a newborn baby experiences at birth. It takes about four to five months for a baby to be able to see color. Does that mean that all those colorful plush toys that are too cute to ignore are meaningless? Not really. Babies need every stimulation they can get so their senses can develop. Early on, babies can only see black and white, but their depth perception gets better every day.
A good tip is to expose babies to black-and-white patterns regularly. Stripes, dots, stars, etc. all work well to help the baby’s eyes practice differentiating between patterns. Those patterns attract the baby’s attention and the parents will notice how the baby gradually pays attention to the patterns and becomes fascinated by them. When the baby sees colors, he or she will be even more distracted by the colorful crib mobiles and soft toys everywhere.
12 Recognizing Mom’s Scent
The sense of smell is also a very busy one in newborns. Babies are able to recognize the smell of their amniotic fluid. Of course, they have been around it for a long time! Moreover, they are able to distinguish the mother’s smell from all other people. Many babies at the age of one or two months may stop crying the instant their mothers lift them. They smell the scent of their mothers and are comforted by its familiarity.
Some research has proved even more astonishing facts. It's said that a baby is able to smell a mother’s breastmilk and differentiate it from the breastmilk of another mother or from the smell of formula. It's said that this very sense of distinction makes babies turn their heads towards their mothers when hungry. They know that this is their mother and they know that she is the source for food.
11 Taking In Other Smells
A baby’s sense of smell is not limited to smelling Mom. On the contrary, they are able to smell other things that they are surrounded by, too. For example, a baby can recognize the scent of shampoo, baby lotion or baby oil that the mother uses regularly. If a baby needs comforting, the scent of a familiar objects can actually calm him or her down. Some babies are comforted by the smell of their blankets.
That said, it's possible to use aromatherapy to benefit infants. A study published in 2005 in the Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics journal discovered that babies were comforted after surgery by the scent of vanilla. Lavender and chamomile oils are also safe for newborns. Moreover, breastmilk scent actually makes babies more alert. Therefore, if the baby is not going to feed, it's better to let the father, or any other person, put the baby to sleep.
10 Recognizing Voices
A newborn baby can recognize the mother’s voice. In time, babies learn to turn their heads and their eyesight towards the mothers when they speak. No wonder! Babies in utero are able to hear all kinds of voices and noises existing inside and outside their mothers’ bodies. They are therefore able to hear all voices, even when they show preference to the mother, and gradually begin to respond by looking at anyone who is talking.
As the baby grows and develops, the sense of distinction grows with it. With this trait, other voices become recognizable as well. The father’s voice also becomes a special one that the baby responds to and gets comforted by. The baby pays attention when a familiar voice starts talking. But in general, if silence is broken with any voice, the baby is able to hear it. That includes siblings making some noise in the house, or any guest that walks in.
9 Differentiating Songs
The only thing more comforting than a mother talking to her baby is a mother singing to baby. The baby finds the mother’s voice calming and relaxing, even when it's not yet nap time; the baby finds the singing entertaining and engaging. It's one of the first few sounds a baby begins to associate with love at an early age. Repetition every day and night makes the baby get used to it even more.
Nursery rhymes are made for a reason. Even when it's not the mother singing to her baby, the very sound of a singing voice can distract the baby if he or she is crying. It can also keep the baby alert if he or she has a tendency to cry while changing the diaper or clothing. Some babies respond to certain songs better than others. They turn their heads the minute they hear a singing voice. This is especially true if the same song is repeated and becomes a part of a routine.
8 Taking In White Noises
White noises are background noises like the sound of an air conditioner or a fan, which can be very calming and soothing to babies. Some apps are available now to turn on sounds like ocean waves and shushing sounds next to a baby who is trying to sleep. Similarly, there are white noise machines marketed especially to babies. All those devices work on the sense that a baby responds to white noises by being more relaxed.
The hearing sense responds to white noises since birth. This explains how mothers try using their own shushing sounds since day one. Parents may not necessarily set up white noise machines next to the baby, but they will notice it by coincidence when the baby is calmer once these noise kick in, for example, the hum of the fridge, or air passing through the vents. If it works well for the baby, they start using it as a sleeping aid. Not so surprisingly, this also works for adults.
7 Recognizing Tunes
Similar to the way a baby can hear mum and dad from birth, baby can also hear music. Imagine being in the car, getting stressed by the crying baby and suddenly the radio gets turned on, and the baby stops. Magic? No. As already mentioned, the baby actually hears sounds well and not just as a blur of noise. A singing voice alone is soothing and so is music. Put the two together and the baby will be fascinated. They can follow the tunes on a radio or a TV show easily enough. All kinds of baby gear that come with music, such as swings, also help keep the baby entertained.
Over time, parents notice that certain tunes become the baby’s favorite. Even if the baby can't yet turn his or her head fast enough, baby's ears are busy. When a good piece of music comes up, the baby listens and processes it and is often happy about it. This explains why some music can be attention-grabbing for the baby and others just aren’t that effective. The art of baby songs and music is built upon this difference. There is a balance between calmness and boredom that artists need to keep in mind when composing for babies.
6 Developing Sense Of Touch
During pregnancy, many women direct their attention to books about parenting. There is not a single book that does not mention the importance of touch as early as day one. It's true that skin-to-skin contact is something calming, soothing and is actually good for the baby. It helps stimulate the baby’s brain growth and helps Mom bond with her baby.
Even after the time in the hospital, it's never too late to use touch to bond with the baby. As a matter of fact, both parents can do that. It's important to hold the baby a lot, massage, hug, and never ignore baby's cries. As the baby grows, it 's recommended to introduce new textures to the baby, such as small soft toys and blankets to help him or her process the world using hands.
5 Grasping For Things
Little by little, a mother notices that her baby become more active. At such a delicate age, small victories count. It's not surprising to see a mother very excited about the fact that her baby can hold things. Of course, what can one expect from such a tiny creature? It starts with the ever-so-cute touch of grasping one of the parents’ fingers. With time, it develops to grasping crib rails and toys.
Scientifically, babies are born with the grasping skill, but that doesn’t mean they don't continue to practice it. An interesting test is to show the baby, around 3 months old, a colorful sound-making object. The baby is not yet able to lift a hand, but will make a grasping movement with the hand instead. This proves the baby has good hand-eye coordination, but the muscles are still working on being strong enough to move.
4 Learning To Thumb-Suck
Controversial as it is, thumbs-sucking is not actually harmful. Myths are circulated about how newborn babies will have crooked teeth and damaged gums if they continue to suck their thumbs, but in reality, parents should only start worrying if the behavior continues into late toddlerhood. What is happening here is that the baby is learning to self-soothe. That is, baby is trying to help him or herself calm down without the help of mum and dad.
It happens if by coincidence the baby cries and the parents are late to respond. Thumb-sucking can also occur if the parents are trying to remove the pacifier from the baby, so baby finds an alternative. The sucking motion in general is a way of calming down during moments of stress. It's a way of discovering the baby’s own body, which is a part of the exploration of the world. At this age, everything is new to the baby, including its own limbs.
3 Experiencing Temperature
One of the most overlooked aspects of a baby’s feelings is the sensation of temperature. Many parents claim they did everything to calm the baby and get him or her to stop crying, when they actually didn’t realize that the baby may be feeling too hot or too cold. When a room temperature is wrong, an adult may feel a bit too hot or too cold. This feeling is augmented in newborn babies, because they are more sensitive to temperatures than we are.
This sensation is why it's recommended for parents to add one extra layer to the baby’s clothing, compared to what they would wear when they dress themselves. In hot summer months, sun exposure - even when the baby is in the shade – makes babies feel too hot. This is why it's dangerous to cover them too much in hot weather to shield them from sunlight. Their bodies heat up fast and it could restrict breathing.
2 Differentiating Between Tastes
Taste is possibly the first thing a baby experiences if breastfed right after birth. Even if not, baby still has the ability to distinguish different tastes. A breastfed baby tastes what the mother eats, because breastmilk contains some elements from the mother’s diet. It's said that garlic enhances the taste of the milk for babies who are having trouble nursing, but there is worry about the colic it might give them.
Surprisingly, not all formula taste the same. Some babies reject certain brands in favor of others. The differences are minute, but that is just how sensitive a baby is to new tastes. It may take some trials to explain why babies are not drinking a certain type of formula, or what it is in the mother’s diet or medications that make breastmilk unappealing to them. As the baby grows, those differences include favoring different cereals or solid foods that are introduced around 4-6 months.
1 Feeling Hunger
It's not classified as a “sense,” but hunger and thirst are one of the first feelings a baby encounters. Instinctively, it's the most annoying to babies and it's the major reason why they cry. Some babies can handle a dirty diaper for an hour or two without complaining, but leave a baby hungry and all hell breaks loose! It's their way of surviving without being able to talk.
Babies have different appetites and different sleeping patterns that make their feeding schedules unpredictable, so they always give off signs of hunger to let the parents know that they need to be fed. Sometimes they start off lightly by turning their heads or sucking their thumbs before getting into full-blown crying mode. This is the cue for parents to start feeding. Anyway, they alternate between hunger and fullness and realize slowly that such sensations exist and are a normal part of life.