Parents and pediatricians used to believe that babies emerged from the womb with little capacity to perceive their surroundings. Now we know better. A growing interest in infant brain development has given us new insight into how newborns use their budding senses. "Babies are much more aware of the world around them than researchers once thought," says Philip Kellman, Ph.D., a psychologist who directs the Cognitive Science Research Program at the University of California, Los Angeles. The newest research shows that at birth, an infant has the ability to see, hear, smell, taste, and feel.
What's more, scientists also believe that how a baby uses these senses in the early months of life is critical to future development. Even before a baby is born, nerve cells inside the brain are busy creating pathways that allow him to process and store information he gathers from his environment. Research suggests that each sensory experience a baby has -- nursing at the breast, hearing soothing lullabies, seeing his parents' delighted smiles -- helps those pathways form, thereby enhancing brain development.