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Newborn Senses

The senses of a newborn

Babies are born with all 5 senses—sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Some of the senses are not fully developed. The newborn's senses are as follows:

Sight

Over the first few months, babies may have uncoordinated eye movements. They may even appear cross-eyed. Babies are born with the ability to focus only at close range. This is about 8 to 10 inches, or the distance between a mother's face to the baby in her arms. Babies are able to follow or track an object in the first few weeks of life. Focus improves over the first 2 to 3 years of life to a normal 20/20 vision. Newborns can detect light and dark but cannot see all colors. This is why many baby books and infant toys have distinct black and white patterns.

Hearing

During pregnancy, many mothers find that the baby may kick or jump in response to loud noises and may quiet with soft, soothing music. Hearing is fully developed in newborns. Babies with normal hearing should startle in response to loud sounds. These babies will also pay quiet attention to the mother's or father's voice. And they will briefly stop moving when sound at a conversational level is begun. Newborns seem to prefer a higher-pitched voice (the mother's) to a low sounding voice (males). They can also tune out loud noises after hearing them several times.

Newborns will have their hearing screened while still in the hospital.

Smell

Studies have found that newborns have a strong sense of smell. Newborns prefer the smell of their own mother, especially her breastmilk.

Taste

Babies prefer sweet tastes over sour or bitter tastes. Babies also show a strong preference for human milk and breastfeeding. This is especially true if they are breastfed first and then offered formula or a bottle.

Touch

Babies are comforted by touch. Placing a hand on your baby's belly or cuddling close can help him or her feel more secure. Wrapping your baby snugly in a blanket (swaddling) is another technique used to help babies feel secure. When a baby is swaddled, it is important that they can’t roll over to their stomach where they may suffocate. Some mothers find their babies are comforted when worn in a sling or carrier. Holding a baby for feedings is also important. Breastfeeding babies automatically spend several hours a day in their mother's arms.

Online Medical Reviewer: Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Lee, Kimberly G., MD, MSc, IBCLC
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2016
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