Newborn Sensory Milestones
You are finally home with your new baby after nearly 10 months of excitement, anticipation, aches, pains, and making it through labor and delivery. You are now ready to settle into motherhood, and start watching your baby develop and grow. Recent research shows that infants are born with their senses already in tune to the world around them, with cognitive and physical development occurring very quickly in the first month of life.
One of the earliest milestones is a baby’s ability to see, very clearly, 8 to 12 inches in front of them. Even though a baby’s vision is somewhat blurry upon birth, by the time you’re holding him in your arms, he can easily make out your face and its features. At birth, they’re also able to distinguish contrasting patterns of colors and shades, but they can’t distinguish lighter colors or depth perception until they’re 3-6 months. By the end of his first month of life, he’ll be able to focus on objects as far as 3 feet away.
Newborns have a well-developed sense of smell. In the hours right after birth, a baby is able to differentiate between her mother’s scent and that of others. Babies have an uncanny ability to quickly recognize mommy’s milk. Most babies find a mother’s smell to be soothing and calming, especially the smell of breast milk.
Related to the sense of smell, a baby’s sense of taste is closely aligned with his mother’s. A baby will show an affinity for flavors that you like. This started happening since he was in your belly taking in the flavors of the foods you were consuming while pregnant that passed through the amniotic fluid. Food flavors are also passed through breast milk. In general, most newborns show a clear preference for sweet over sour flavors.
Infants also have an advanced sucking reflex that sometimes begins in the womb. Once they’re born, their rooting and sucking reflexes allows them to quickly find their mother’s breast to begin breastfeeding.
At around 20 weeks into your pregnancy, a baby’s inner ear is fully formed. In the womb, a baby is able to hear his mother’s heartbeat, blood circulation, and sounds outside the womb. By the time they’re born, most babies can easily distinguish between the sound of his mother’s voice and the voices of others.
Your baby can tell where a sound is coming from and react. Present at birth, the Moro Reflex – or startle reflex – peaks in the first month of life and is likely to occur if the infant’s head suddenly shifts position, the temperature changes abruptly, or they are startled by a sudden noise.
By the time a baby reaches a month old, he may be able to slightly turn his head towards a noise or sound, or even lift his head in reaction to the sound. Some babies are even able to lift their heads at birth, but realize that you need to be very careful in making sure you’re always supporting his neck and head, as the neck muscles aren’t fully developed until 5-6 months.
One of the senses that is most advanced at birth is the sense of touch. Researchers believe skin-to-skin contact has many positive effects on a newborn, such as promoting a healthy immune system, temperature and breathing regulation, weight gain, and smoother transition to the outside world. Newborns are able to feel sensations throughout their bodies, as their skin is very sensitive to touch.
Perhaps one of the most fun milestones to witness is your newborn’s first smile, and it may happen while they are napping. At the end of the first month, they’re able to smile directly at you, in reaction to a face you’re making or the sound of your voice.
As you start observing some of these milestones, remember that every baby is different. Your baby may be an early learner on some things, and take his time on others. If you are concerned that your baby is not responding or doing certain things, don’t be shy about bringing it up to your pediatrician.
Ivanna Campbell is a mom of four – ages 4, 2 1/2, 18 months and newborn – She is the founder of a national advocacy site for moms, www.empoweredmommies.com