How your baby views her new world.
Gazing into your newborn’s eyes naturally makes you wonder what she might be thinking. After all, a newborn’s waking hours consist of one novel experience after another. How do newborns process all this information?
Though it’s hard to know exactly what’s on the minds of newborns, we do have some insight into how this world might seem to them based on what we know about their senses. Babies are very visually oriented creatures. Their eyes are best able to focus on things about 8 to 12 inches away — which is conveniently about how far away your face is when you cradle them in your arms.
However, though objects that are farther away are blurry, newborns are still able to see bright colors and images with contrast, and are often captivated by sparkling lights. They like to look at faces in particular, and will often spend more time looking at faces than other images.
Babies are born with pretty good hearing, though it’s not perfect. They are most able to hear high-pitched sounds with exaggerated enunciation — baby talk is exactly like this.
They have been hearing in utero for several weeks by the time they are born, listening to household voices and sounds as well as mom’s heartbeat. It appears that a baby actually learns to recognize mom’s voice in utero, and research shows that a newborn has a strong preference for mom’s voice over all others. In fact, one study showed that newborns even preferred a muffled version of their mothers’ voices (much as they would have sounded in their watery intrauterine environment) over the way they sounded after they were born.
Touch is a powerful way in which parents interact and bond with their new babies. A firm, reassuring cuddle (or a snug swaddle in a receiving blanket) is a comforting reminder of being packed in mom’s uterus. Newborns will grasp your finger (or anything else that you put in their palms), and this neurological reflex (though not “intentional”) is particularly endearing.
Newborns are able to taste and smell, and early on prefer sweet or salty rather than sour or bitter foods.
The reward of seeing your little scientist observing something for the first time will likely keep you hunting around for more fun and exciting things to show her. The act of paying attention to an image or a sound is a full, engaging activity itself for a newborn. Though newborns won’t respond with a smile or a happy-baby cooing sound until about two months, you will be able to tell that your little one is enjoying a new activity if she appears calm and engaged while she observes.
Keep in mind that while it’s good to provide newborns with interesting images and sounds, they give cues when they’ve had enough stimulation. They might become fussy or cry, or even look away, yawn or suck to soothe themselves.
These early days with your little one are a time for mutual bonding and learning. After all, for both you and your baby, the world now seems completely different than it did before!
Behrman, ed: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 17th edition. 2004. Saunders. Philadelphia, PA.
P.K. Smith, H.. Cowie and M. Blades. Understanding Children’s Development. 4th edition. 2003. Blackwell Publishing.
Do you have any observations about newborns to share? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.