When gazing down into the face of a beautiful newborn, you can often be left wondering what they are thinking about.
Does your little one find your touch soothing? Does she like your favourite song as much as you do? Can she smell the perfume you have just put on? The answers to these questions are yes, yes and yes.
While babies may not respond to sound, smell and taste in the same way that you do, each of these senses are well developed by the time they are born. In fact, a baby’s sensory experience begins long before they say goodbye to the womb.
Sight can take a bit longer to develop, and for the average newborn their world appears as a blurry, black-and-white place. It’s not until around the four-month mark when your baby will develop binocular vision, see colours relatively clearly, and have the ability to focus and perceive depth.
From birth, babies are primed and ready for for social input. Today’s studies show that they are much more than empty headed, submissive lumps, and that their social capabilities help them to identify voices and faces, communicate and develop an understanding of other people’s minds.
Understanding a baby’s programming
A good analogy for your beautiful little bundle is the humble home computer. Computers come preloaded with software, designed to detect patterns and negotiate tasks. In order for the software to do it’s job, however, the user must have a good understanding of how the software works. With an understanding, the user can guide the software to reach its full potential.
It’s important to realise babies are more than just cute blobs that cry, poop and sleep. Babies constantly absorb their surroundings and their five senses – sight, smell, taste, sound and touch – are forever engaged. While adult senses are active too, babies are learning through their senses at a furious rate.
Smell and taste
Smell and taste are the strongest and best-developed senses when a baby first enters the world. At birth, babies are already veteran sniffers, as the olfactory senses are mature by the end of the first trimester. Remember all that yummy food and drink you guzzled during pregnancy? Your baby smelt the odours as they travelled through the amniotic fluid.
One of the favourite smells to a baby is lemon, although all smells are exciting and new to a newborn. The most intoxicating smell is the scent of their mother, who by now they are well and truly used to. No more feeling bad when you can’t find time for a shower!
A good way to help strengthen your baby’s sense of smell is to offer a variety of different smells that you can safely hold near their nose. Safe foods include coffee, ripe fruit, herbs, aromatic flavourings, leather and flowers.
Your baby’s taste buds become mature around 14 weeks into your pregnancy, and through the amniotic fluid your baby will sample every piece of food you put into your mouth. There is a reason why you may feel a bit of movement after a heavenly slice of chocolate cake – your baby has enjoyed it too! Infants have an undeniable sweet tooth. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to eat as much healthy fruit and veg as possible when pregnant, as your baby is likely to crave the kinds of food you consumed during pregnancy. Avoiding the sweet foods your baby loves most allows room for your baby to acquire a like for savoury foods.
When strengthening your baby’s taste buds, imitation should come into play. Eat close to your baby and let them see how much you enjoy your food. If you’re a chilli fan, we recommend that you introduce it to your baby very slowly and in small amounts.
From the very beginning your baby will appreciate every form of loving touch you give, and research shows that touch can evoke powerful responses in infants. If you want to tell your child that you love them, touch is the fastest way to do so. For premature babies, touch is a proven way to help quicken weight gain.
While babies love nothing more than the feeling of someone touching them, the feeling they get when touching something else is odd at first and can be unwelcome. You’ll find that your baby will lean more towards exploring with their mouth in the early days, as opposed to touching with their hands. Once they hit the five-month mark, curiosity takes hold and little fingers start grasping for everything in sight.
By week 34 in the tummy, your baby is listening intently to the sound of your heartbeat, the hum of your voice and the rush of your blood as it travels around your body. Although the sound of your voice is muffled, they begin to recognise it and by the time your baby leaves the womb, they respond quickly to the sound of your voice providing the sound comes from in front. Throughout the first year hearing gets sharper, and by 12 months your baby should be able to track sounds coming from all directions. High frequency tones are generally preferred.
Most newborns have a hearing screening before being discharged from the hospital, and it’s important to have hearing evaluated regularly. Genetics, infections, trauma and damaging noise levels can result in problems that may need addressing. If you have any concerns about your baby’s hearing, talk to your doctor early.
As a newborn, your baby will see best at a distance of only 8 to 12 inches. While they can see objects further away, the increased distance makes it difficult to focus. Having been confined to the inside of your tummy, newborns are very sensitive to bright light and, when possible, it’s best to keep babies in rooms offering low levels of light.
The things your baby will respond most to through sight are black and white objects that help them keep focus. Human faces are always a winner too. When choosing toys with bright colours, look for toys with contrasting patterns or lots of different bright colours.
Don’t be surprised if you see your baby go cross-eyed or “wall-eyed” temporarily. This is a normal part of muscle development and the best way to strengthen eye muscles is to offer lots of stimulating things to look at.
How to adapt to a baby’s way of thinking
While sensory development is well under way, the way a baby looks at the world is undeniably different to the way adults view it. By taking their capabilities into consideration, you can adapt the way you parent to help strengthen and nurture their developing senses.
The five senses are proven to be extremely meaningful for a newborn child, and assumptions that babies work fine on just milk and sleep should be forgotten. Consider the way they think and view their surroundings, and find ways to connect with them. Above everything else, understand the power of loving care.
This post was sponsored by Bellamy’s Organic – A Pure Start to Life – and written by Liana Mollison. There’s now a certified organic choice across the complete baby and toddler food and drink range. Visit http://bellamysorganic.com.au.