The World According to Babies

Here, fascinating answers to the question: How much does my baby understand?

Hearing and Vision

Every parent thinks her baby is a genius. And maybe it's not such a far-out claim when you consider the startling amount a newborn does know. His senses began to develop while he was still in the womb, and they progress at an amazing pace during the first year. Far from being a helpless little bundle, your baby is processing tons of information -- and using it to become attached to you.

Hearing

close-up of baby's ear

Your baby can detect sounds by the third trimester, so this sense is already advanced at birth. She'll recognize familiar voices -- especially yours, since she listened to it the most in the womb. She may even recognize songs and stories she heard during the last six weeks of your pregnancy. "By the time she's 1 month old, a baby can tell the difference between certain sounds, like 'pa' and 'ba,'" says Michael Yogman, MD, a pediatrician at Mount Auburn Hospital, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At about 6 months, she can recognize and begin responding to her name. This is also when your baby starts babbling and discovers another sound she loves -- her own voice!

Sounds Babies Love

  • White noise -- the vacuum cleaner, radio static, and the hum of a fan -- remind them of the soothing whooshing noises in the womb.
  • That high-pitched, singsong voice we all use when we talk to babies. Lower-frequency sounds are less engaging.
  • Music, especially lullabies and nursery rhymes.

You may think your baby needs silence in order to sleep, but she's actually used to the (loud) sounds of your body from her time in the womb. So make some noise while she naps -- she may sleep better!

Vision

close-up of baby's face

Sight is the least developed sense at birth. "A newborn can only see about 8 to 12 inches away," says Roni Leiderman, PhD, associate dean of the Mailman Segal Institute for Early Childhood Studies at Nova Southeastern University, in Fort Lauderdale. Beyond that, the world seems like a pretty blurry place to your baby -- his eyes don't work together yet so he can't focus very well. But his limited vision actually helps him feel attached to you. "A newborn can see just far enough to make out your face when you're feeding him," says Dr. Leiderman.

A Newborn's-Eye View

Newborn. Your baby loves to look at your face, especially areas of contrast like your hairline and eyes. Since his color vision isn't fully developed yet, he's mesmerized by black-and-white designs, bold patterns, and large, brightly colored objects.

2 months. Now that their eyes are starting to work together, most babies can track a moving object. Your newborn's brain is beginning to perceive and follow motion, so he'll love watching a mobile or playing in front of a child-safe mirror.

4 months. He can now see in color, so his toys and stuffed animals become more appealing. He also has better depth perception and can spot objects across a room.

6 months. Your baby is able to see finer details, so he may be fascinated by things that never interested him before: his teddy bear's face, the design on his rattle, or the tree outside his bedroom window.

Until your baby is about 2 months old, his peripheral vision is stronger than his central vision, so don't hang a crib mobile directly over his head.

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