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Special Senses of the Newborn

Published January 01, 2008        by Nicole

Your new baby is constantly receiving and responding to stimuli in his environment.By his seventh month in the womb, all of his senses were developed.As a newborn, he can already hear, see, feel, taste, and smell.Some of these senses need time to fully mature.Yet, from birth, he is ready to learn about his new world and everything in it.

Failure to stimulate his senses can have disastrous effects on his growth and development.Happily, you, as loving parents, will know how to provide just the right kind of sensory input for your baby.


One of the most important ways of communicating with your baby is touch.Babies enjoy gentle handling and rhythmic motion.While inside the womb, your baby became accustomed to being rocked by your movements.After birth, that same swaying motion comforts him.A fretful infant will often become quiet if you gather him to your body and gently rock him.

Even the most mundane activities- feeding and bathing him, changing his clothes and diapers, holding him, and walking with him in your arms- stimulate your baby’s sense of touch and movement.

Smell and Taste

At birth, babies demonstrate that they discriminate odors by turning away from unpleasant smells.Your baby will quickly learn to recognize familiar smells, especially your own.

Although his taste buds aren’t completely matured at birth, your baby can tell sweet from sour and much prefers the former.It is no coincidence that breast milk is very sweet.


During the last trimester of pregnancy, a baby listens to his mother’s muffled voice as well to the sounds of her heartbeat, breathing, and digestion.When your baby’s head is pressed against your chest, he no doubt finds those familiar sounds comforting.You may notice that he sporadically listens to higher-pitched voices.Even men unconsciously raise the pitch of their voices when speaking to babies.As your baby gains more control over his head movements, it will become clear that he not only can hear, but can accurately determine the location of a sound source.

Loud, sharp noises, often upsets babies. Soft, rhythmic sounds are calming.Music boxes, baby teddy bears that make pleasant sounds and soft music will stimulate your baby’s sense of hearing.He will enjoy listening to you sing and talk to him.Soon the monologue will turn into a delightful dialogue as he starts replying with his own babbling sounds.


Upon emergence from their dim intra-uterine environment, babies exhibit a protective reflex of tightly shutting their eyes against bright light.This response is called the blinking reflex.

Once you and your baby have settled into an environment more subdued than the delivery room, you will notice your baby scanning your face with wide eyed interest.Although his visual system is immature, a newborn sees quite well at a distance of eight inches from the bridge of his nose.Parents instinctively bring their faces that close to inspect the new member of the family.

Like an old fashioned camera, your newborn infant has “fixed” focus, that is, he is not able to adjust his eyes to clearly see images closer than eight inches or further away than ten inches.He will quickly learn to accommodate [to focus the eyes with changing object distance].By six weeks of age, he will be able to focus at a distance of approximately twelve inches.The ability to accommodate matures by four months.In fact, at this age, infants not only see distant objects well, but can focus on images that are very close better than an adult can.

The muscles that move the eyes to help them both focus on an object to produce a single image are immature at birth.You may notice that one eye or the other occasionally wanders.As long as that eye is not always deviated in the same direction, this wandering is normal.Visual coordination is much improved within a few weeks.By the age of six weeks, he will be able to smoothly move both eyes in concert as he follows a moving object.By eight weeks, your baby will be able to converge both eyes perfectly when viewing a stationary object.

The ability of both eyes to focus on the same image is essential to the development of depth perception, the capacity to distinguish near from far.Infants less than two months of age are probably not able to perceive depth.Your baby will be able to discern relative distances by four to six months.His ability to estimate distances matures after he has the experiences of reaching and crawling.Until your baby has had experience with propelling himself around his environment, he probably will not have any fear of heights.If you leave him on a raised surface, for instance, he will blithely scoot over the edge.

Color vision is probably immature at birth.Color discrimination is learned early, starting with yellow and ending with blue.By four months, babies can see all colors well and often prefer red.