The minute you first held your child, you looked upon them with loving eyes, but how long until they’re able to reciprocate? How long until they’ll be aware that your voice is your voice? Can they taste breastmilk, and/or formula?
Well as we know, each and every baby develops at a different rate. But, is there anything that loving, caring parents can do to help expedite the development of their baby’s senses? As these experts claim…yes.
Ray Tsai, M.D., president and chief medical officer of Children’s Health Pediatric Group in Dallas, Texas (USA) claims, “Babies use their five senses to take in information, react to their environment, seek nutrition and comfort, and bond with their caregivers.”
That means the five senses are of the utmost importance as soon as your baby is born!
While the five senses may develop at different rates, and can vary based on each specific child, these are 5 expert recommended tips for helping to stimulate and develop your baby’s senses:
Being able to see is a sensation that should never be taken for granted. As important crucial as it is for us to use each and every day, it’s one of the five senses that takes a while to develop.
“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 Dr. 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. And by the time he’s walking and crawling, between 8 and 12 months, he’ll be able to use his depth perception to judge distances as he explores,” he adds.
What can parents do?: If you want to stimulate and encourage development of a baby’s vision, decorations are a great way to start. Decorate your baby’s nursery with bright colors and bold patterns. You can also change the position of your baby’s crib. Try feeding him on both sides to help encourage seeing from different angles. Another option is to put your face in your baby’s line of sight, and then talk or smile; this allows him to focus on your face and watch your movements. Peekaboo (around 4 months) will help hand-eye coordination. In general, the goal is to stimulate your baby’s vision, so try taking them to new, and exciting locales to give them views of new sights!
Hearing is–quite literally–the first sense your baby will develop. “A baby’s hearing starts to develop while she’s still in the womb, so your child will be familiar with your voice when she’s born,” says Peter Jung, M.D., chair of pediatrics at Houston’s Memorial Hermann Memorial City Hospital.
“[Your baby] may startle when a door slams because newborns are sensitive to changes in sound. But once she’s asleep don’t be surprised if she snoozes through even the loudest noises,” says pediatrician Laura Jana, M.D., coauthor of Heading Home With Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality.
Typically, babies are able to start mimicking certain sounds at around 2 months; at 4 months, they’ll begin to “babble” in response to stimuli. And, at 6 months, they’ll begin to be able to mimic your sounds…which means their hearing is right on track.
What can parents do?: “Talking, reading, and singing to your baby helps build her personality, encourages language development, and promotes bonding,” says Dr. Tsai.
“Try using a singsong-y voice to get her attuned to the different tones and patterns in speech,” recommends Stephen J. Marquis, M.D., a pediatrician in Appleton, Wisconsin
Looking for more ways to heighten your baby’s senses? Check out the next page for more helpful insight from experts!
“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.
That means that touch is one of the first senses that your baby will develop. Which explains why and how it’s such a crucial part of bonding with your newborn. Cuddling, holding, soothing, and general touching of your infant will help them feel secured and warm.
A baby’s lack of mobility and tiny arms and fingers make it difficult for them to explore through touch. That means, interestingly enough, that they use their mouth!
“Babies explore through touch, and their preferred tool is their mouth. So don’t worry if he sucks or chews on anything he can get his hands on,” Dr. Jana says. “Just make sure that you give them things that are clean and safe”
What can parents do?: Hold your baby early and often. Skin-to-skin contact is especially therapeutic for newborns, many doctors say. Even little things like applying and rubbing lotion on your baby can be beneficial for them! Try letting them feel a variety of textures and materials so they can explore through touch!
Though it’s not very well-developed, babies are born with a sense of smell. That means that from birth, your baby is able to pick up your scent, and can even grow fond of it!
So what else can they pick up on? “Babies are especially sensitive to the smell of breast milk and can even distinguish it from formula,” says Nicholas J. Tapas, M.D., a pediatrician in Glenview, Illinois.
What can parents do?: Experts like Dr. Marquis claim that repeatedly using the same products can help because babies like familiarity. Also, moms should try to avoid heavily scented products when nursing. “Try to avoid scented detergents and heavy perfumes, because they can confuse your baby by masking the pheromones that you produce,” says Dr. Tsai.
When you’re not nursing, however, feel encouraged to expose your infant to a wide variety of smells! Also, try saying the names of each scent to help build vocabulary and association through smell.
Your baby arrived with, believe it or not, a full set of tastebuds…and even a preference! They may not be able to express what they do and don’t like, but they were born with a liking of sweet things and a distaste for savory things. Also, they can taste what you’ve eaten through your breastmilk.
“Eat a variety of foods while breastfeeding. Starting around 6 months, introduce your baby to a variety of foods and flavors,” claims Nimali Fernando, M.D., coauthor of Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater. “This will give him a head start on experiencing the array of tastes found in a healthy diet.”
One important note: be aware of any generational or allergies that run in the family, and always consult a doctor if you’re on the fence about introducing a certain food to your baby.
READ: 6 Simple and fun exercises to do with your baby
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