Guide to Your Newborn's Senses

Touch and Sight

Loving Touches

From the start, your baby can recognize a soothing touch, distinguish a warm sensation from a cool one, and experience the pleasure of a loving massage. Research shows that touch can evoke powerful responses in babies; infant massage is a surefire soother, and premature babies who undergo touch therapy typically gain weight faster. So do babies enjoy touching things as much as they enjoy being touched? Not at first. Though newborns are as capable of touching and feeling as older babies, they usually explore with their mouths rather than with their hands until they hit the 4- or 5-month mark. After that, the sky's the limit -- your baby's curious little fingers will do everything from exploring the contents of her cereal to tugging at your hair.

Did You Know? What's usually the fastest way to soothe a crying baby? Snuggle together while gently stroking him. Your touch has an amazing power to communicate love.

The Eyes Don't Have It

Unlike the other senses, sight is not well-developed in utero, even though your baby can open and close her eyes at around 32 weeks of gestation and distinguish between light and dark inside the womb. Some moms report that shining a flashlight on their belly will cause their baby to move toward or away from the light.

To a newborn, the world appears as a blurry, black-and-white place. She's limited to seeing things that are 8 to 12 inches away, just about the distance to your face when feeding her. No wonder she loves looking at you! Babies prefer looking at the human face in general. At this age, babies can see high-contrast objects best -- they're especially drawn to the outline of the face or the hairline, which is easy to see because of the contrast. And a baby can see a stuffed panda bear more easily than a pastel bunny. Indeed, a newborn won't be able to see the varied hues of her baby quilt yet; around eight weeks, her ability to see colors begins to bloom and shapes take on more definition.

At about 4 months, her vision will improve. In addition to seeing colors, your baby will develop binocular vision, the ability to focus and perceive depth. (Before that her eyes may have crossed because she couldn't focus well.) Pair that with her emerging motor skills, and you get a baby who's primed for play -- she'll reach for toys, colorful earrings, and whatever else catches her eye.

The last visual milestone occurs at 7 months, when she develops monocular vision, the ability to focus and perceive depth using just one eye. Ultimately, these new skills will help her navigate crawling and walking.


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