Newborn Development: The Full Spectrum of Their Senses
The fact is that very few of us remember our toddler stages, and even less of us remember infancy — in fact, unless you’re superhuman, chances are that no one has any legitimate memories of their three-month old selves or the sense they had at the time. This is due to a simple thing called “semantic memory”. We are able to remember who our parents are, our siblings, and possible a few others, but overall as infants the human species lacks the capacity to recall entire episodes. Between infancy and four years, our memories are still developing. Our senses, however, develop quite a bit quicker than this. So exactly what is your baby able to sense as a newborn?
The Five Senses
Hearing, smelling, seeing, touching, and tasting: the five senses that we all depend on to draw conclusions, make inferences, and make decisions in our day-to-day lives. Your baby lacks some of these initially, and their sense of smell is surprisingly the strongest sense they have when they’re first born.
I Can Hear You!
It’s no secret that babies can fully hear sounds when they exit the womb. What many don’t know is that they can still hear while inside their mothers. In a sweet and almost poetic way, their very first sounds are that of their mother’s heartbeat and everything that goes on internally.
Baby has a first row seat at the mom’s body concert, and they very quickly become attached to the soothing voice of their parents. While everything is muffled inside mom’s womb, once they join the rest of the party, it’s full-on hearing from then out.
Can You Smell That?
That’s right! Studies have shown that newborns can smell things as early as while they are still in the womb. Amniotic fluid is probably one of the first things that a baby can pick up on within 3-4 days of their birth, as this ties them to their mother. This is such an interesting find because smelling anything associated with their mother may help them to be soothed, whether it’s by smelling amniotic fluid, breast milk, or just your particular scent — babies have nose memory.
This allows infants to differentiate between people, especially their mother. This is easy to understand because as adults, scent memory has the ability to take us back in time and pinpoint a specific location, person, or situation. It’s like walking into a diner, smelling pancakes, and immediately being taken back to Sunday mornings and your mom’s homemade buttermilk pancakes fresh off the stove!
Yes, newborns can see you, too! Just like any other muscle on the body, eyes need to be strengthened in order to work to their full potential. The eyes have muscles that need to be built up for babies to use them and fully comprehend what they are seeing, but they can still see objects shortly after birth. When a baby is born, they are nearsighted.
This means that unless an object is eight to ten inches away, it just appears as blurry vision. Therefore when you’re holding your baby, chances are that they can make out your facial features and slowly begin to recognize who you are. There’s a reason your baby locks onto your face!
Newborns are also more likely to be drawn to monotone (black and white) colors rather than bright ones as their eyes develop, and similarly to someone with bright eyes, they are sensitive to light initially. Your baby’s eyes will strengthen and develop in time, and soon enough they’ll be following you around the room and distractedly watching everything they can set their sights on!
What A Strange Taste
Like many of the others, a baby’s sense of taste begins developing in the womb. They start to grow tiny taste buds that are only mature enough to taste things such as: sweet, salty, spicy, sour, etc. This is where the common joke comes in that babies either “like spicy food” or don’t, as by this point they are kicking and moving around in their mother’s uterus.
While they obviously can’t decipher between foods, they can taste some of what you can — so ease up on the jalapenos! Babies will favor sweet foods over anything else, and this incredibly beginning sense of taste is a survival skill that develops rapidly once they are birthed.
I Touch, You Touch
It starts around the 11-week mark: your baby will begin moving as their sense of feeling develops. They’ll start to “feel out” their environment, which ultimately is what leads to kicks and pushes. A baby’s skin will remain highly sensitive when they are born, with one of their most sensitive skin spots being the bottom of their tiny feet!
Affection is incredibly important for a developing baby, especially during the first year of their growth. They’ll remember skin-to-skin contact and will associate it with loving parents. As they begin to feel out the natural world, hand-holding, reaching out, chewing, and even playing will become a natural thing for them.
By the end of their first year, they’ll develop a love for touching things and playing with anything that can be felt, moved, pushed, pulled, twisted, or chewed on.
Intuition As A Sense?
Newer studies have shown that newborns have one more incredibly sense: Emotion. Of course they can feel basic emotions which tell us what’s wrong with them if they’re crying or that they’re a happy baby; research shows that babies can also pick up on another’s emotions and are intuitive, particularly, to their mother.
While this is not surprising, it’s a unique thing to think about. Your child can sense how you’re feeling, and are particularly keen to picking up on stress. If you notice, when you laugh, after a few months your baby will laugh and/or smile with you. They react to your facial features and can sense an overwhelming emotion.
This doesn’t mean, however, that you need to find a way to be consistently stress-free while raising your child. It’s not an easy thing to do. Your baby as a newborn is essentially a mirror for your actions, the stress that will affect them negatively is serious, severe stress caused from a toxic environment, or toxic relationships that are around them. Anything else?
It’s all normal, because your baby will sense your happiness and love for them as well! It’s hard to believe, but some studies have even shown that babies know when we’re lying or faking something — so don’t try and pretend that you love sleeping for the sake of their naptime!
Human development is fascinating in itself. As a new parent or even an experienced parent, a new baby is an exciting roller coaster ride. If you understand more about them, it may help you to decide how to act and what decisions you make to raise them.
At the end of the day your baby knew who you were before they were even born, a mother-baby bond is formed early on no matter what senses are developing. The most important thing they can know is unconditional love. And of course, how good food can taste after a year of developing taste buds!