Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Your Baby's Senses

Find out about your baby's five senses at birth and beyond.

Your newborn navigates the world using his five senses. Baby's sensory explorations are constant, whether he's mesmerized by Daddy's face (or his brightly patterned tie) or soothed by the sound of his favorite lullaby or the smell of Mommy's skin. Keep things interesting by exposing baby to lots of new sensations — tickle him with a feather or play your favorite CD. The possibilities are endless when there's a whole world to discover.

1. Touch

Your baby thrives on being held and cuddled. And your touch has an amazing power to communicate love, as well as soothe him and even boost his immunity. Research shows that babies who are stroked lovingly don't get sick as much and cry less often. And preemies who are massaged grow and develop faster than babies who aren't. It's natural for your newborn to prefer soft touches, like a gentle caress or the feel of soft cotton. You'll notice that baby bristles at a rough touch or a scratchy, coarse fabric.

2. Taste

Baby's palate starts to develop in the womb. Different flavors from Mom's diet are transmitted to baby through the amniotic fluid, and then through breast milk once he's born. Recent studies show that the foods baby was exposed to during pregnancy or nursing are the ones he tends to like. So if you love carrots, don't be surprised if your little one shares your opinion. But no matter what you ate during pregnancy, baby is born with a sweet tooth. He'll love that first bite of sweet pureed banana or applesauce.

3. Hearing

Baby's hearing is well developed at birth, but he prefers high-pitched voices, like Mom's, because he hears them best. That's why the baby talk most people use is also music to his ears. Over the first year your child's hearing will sharpen and he'll learn to track sounds. For the first three months, he'll only turn toward a sound that's in front of him, but by 6 to 12 months he'll look toward a noise coming from behind him or from across the room.

4. Smell

Baby's little nose is in full working order at birth. He knows your scent well from the time he spent in the womb, and studies show that newborns can tell the difference between their mother's breast pads and those of another nursing mom by scent. Babies are born preferring sweet smells like the fragrance of vanilla; lemon is also a favorite. And your newborn naturally dislikes foul odors, like the smell of rotten eggs. He also hates bitter or sour tastes — probably an instinct to help him avoid dangerous foods.

5. Sight

At first, a baby's eyes don't work together, and studies suggest that he sees two of everything. He focuses best on objects 8 to 12 inches in front of him (images closer or farther away are blurry). That's about the distance to your face when you're feeding him, so it's no wonder that he loves looking at you.

Newborns prefer the human face in general. They're especially drawn to the outline of the face or the hairline, which is easy to see because of the contrast. Newborns can distinguish light from dark but can't quite see color until about 4 months. Try getting baby's attention with high-contrast patterns (like a checkerboard or stripes) and black-and-white or boldly colored toys. At 4 months he'll begin to use his eyes to coordinate his hand movements, making reaching and grabbing easier.

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