Understanding Your Baby’s Five Senses

July 1, 2018

From the moment your child was born, her brain and body have been hard at work learning about the world around her. Babies use their five senses to take in information, react to their environment, seek nutrition and comfort, and bond with their caregivers, says Ray Tsai, M.D., president and chief medical officer of Children’s Health Pediatric Group in Dallas. Your little one arrived with most of her senses fully developed, but there are still
some things you can do to stimulate them.

Sight

At first, your baby is only able to see 8 to 12 inches away, and his vision is fuzzy. He sees mostly shapes and shades—whether something is big, small, bright or dark, says Tsai. By 4 months, your baby will see farther and use his eyes to track moving objects, and by 5 months he’ll have more depth perception. Somewhere between 4 and 6 months, he’ll be able to see all colors.

How to help: Put your face in your baby’s line of sight, and then talk or smile, says Tsai. That allows him to focus on your face and watch your movements. You can also give him opportunities to take in a variety of sights—try the park, the zoo or a walk through the neighborhood. When something catches his eye, give him time to inspect it thoroughly.

Touch

Babies are able to distinguish among different temperatures, textures, shapes and even weights of objects right away, says Tiffany Field, Ph.D., director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School. Your baby will do most of her touching with her mouth for the first few months, but once she has more control of her hands and arms, she’ll reach out and grab anything within her reach.

How to help: Early on, your baby relies on you for tactile stimulation, so give her lots of cuddles, Field says. Let her feel different items on her skin, such as a soft stuffed animal or a bumpy ball. When she’s older and more hands-on, give her toys of different shapes, sizes and textures.

Taste

Your baby’s taste buds were fully formed the day he arrived. He was born with a preference for sweets, and he’s able to detect the flavors of the food you’ve eaten through your breast milk. That’s why he may seem less than thrilled to nurse after you’ve eaten pretzels, and insatiable after you’ve had a piece of cake.

How to help: Starting around 6 months, introduce your baby to a variety of foods and flavors, says Nimali Fernando, M.D., co-author of Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater. This will give him a head start on experiencing the array of tastes found in a healthy diet. Of course, if your family has a history of food allergies or if your baby has eczema, you should talk to your doctor before feeding him any new ingredients.

Hearing

When your infant was born, her hearing should have been nearly perfect. Her favorite sounds are her parents’ voices, but she’s tuned in to everything. At about 2 months, she’ll begin to try to mimic sounds by cooing, and she’ll become a babbler around 4 months. All of that listening and talking back will eventually lead to her first words.

How to help: Talking, reading and singing to your baby helps build her personality, encourages language development and promotes bonding, says Tsai. You can also play music, let her enjoy the sounds of daily life and describe what she’s hearing.

Smell

At birth, your baby will recognize your scent right away. Infants use their sense of smell to sniff out breast milk, learn about the environment around them, and identify comfort and possible danger.

How to help: “Try to avoid scented detergents and heavy perfumes, because they can confuse your baby by masking the pheromones that you produce,” says Tsai. To build his sense of smell, expose him to many scents. Tell him what each smell is and you’ll boost his language development too.

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