The Senses and Your 1- to 3-Month-Old
Every minute that they're awake awake, babies take in the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of the world around them.
Although it may take a while to understand what all this information means, your infant can still find joy and comfort in the familiar faces, voices, and sensations of everyday life.
Newborns can only see blurry shapes because they are very nearsighted. At birth, a newborn’s vision is between 20/200 and 20/400. Your baby’s best vision is about 8 to 12 inches away.
As babies grow, vision improves so that by the end of 3 months they can recognize familiar faces even at a distance. Human faces are one of an infant's favorite things to look at, especially a parent's and his or her own. Install a baby-safe crib mirror at your infant's eye level and see how your baby watches himself or herself. You also may catch your baby gazing out a window or at a picture on the other side of the room.
Your baby's color vision is also developing, so brightly colored wall hangings or toys will help develop this ability to distinguish color and form. Soft pastel colors, though, are difficult for a baby to appreciate — something to keep in mind when purchasing toys and books.
By the second to third month, your baby's eye coordination has improved enough to follow an object through a 180-degree arch. If you hang a mobile above your baby's crib, look for one that turns around, since watching things move is becoming another favorite activity. By the end of this period, he or she may begin to swipe at objects — the beginning of hand-eye coordination.
Your baby will enjoy looking out from the stroller or baby carrier as you walk the neighborhood or the mall. Point out the sights, letting your baby linger over whatever catches his or her eye. Remember, the whole world is your baby's classroom and there's so much to see!
Your newborn probably had a hearing screening before being discharged from the hospital (most states require this). If not, or your baby was born at home or a birthing center, it's important to have a hearing screening within the first month of life. Most children who are born with a hearing loss can be diagnosed through a hearing screening.
Sometimes hearing loss is caused by things like infections, trauma, and damaging noise levels, and the problem doesn't emerge until later in childhood. So it's important to have kids' hearing evaluated regularly as they grow. Even if your child passed the newborn hearing screen, talk to your doctor if you have concerns about your baby’s hearing.
Your baby loves to hear your voice, so talk, babble, sing, and coo away during these first few months. Take special advantage of your baby's own "talking" to have a "conversation." If you hear your infant make a sound, repeat it and wait for him or her to make another. You are teaching your baby valuable lessons about tone, pacing, and taking turns when talking to someone else.
Babies this age seem to respond best to a higher-pitched voice, which is why most people naturally raise the pitch of their voices and exaggerate their speech when talking to a small baby. This is fine — studies have shown that "baby talk" doesn't delay speech development. In fact, responding to your baby encourages speech. Feel free to mix in some regular adult words and tone with the baby talk. It may seem early, but you're setting the stage for your baby's first words.
Besides voices, your infant will probably enjoy listening to music (play a variety of styles) and may be fascinated by the routine sounds of life as well. Keep your baby nearby as you rattle pans while making dinner, and let him or her sit in an infant seat within earshot of older siblings laughing and playing. Baby rattles and musical mobiles are other good ways to stimulate your infant's hearing.
Taste and Smell
Taste and smell are the two most closely related of the senses. Research shows they prefer sweet tastes from birth and will choose to suck on bottles of sweetened water but will turn away or cry if given something bitter or sour to taste. Likewise, newborns will turn toward smells they prefer and turn away from unpleasant odors.
Though sweetness is preferred, taste preferences will continue to develop during the first year of life. For now, breast milk or formula will satisfy your baby completely.
It won't be long before your baby will be reaching out and touching everything. But now, between 1 and 3 months, your baby depends on you to provide touch. Infants know they're loved and cared for when they're held, hugged, and kissed.
Make it fun, too. Your baby will respond joyfully to a game of "This Little Piggy" as you touch your infant's toes or fingers. Introduce different textures and temperatures: the softness of a feather, the hardness of a wooden block, the cool feel of a window in winter.
If You're Concerned
An infant may appear cross-eyed when trying to look at something that is close. This is usually normal in the first few months.
You can try some unscientific testing of your infant's seeing and hearing. Does your baby watch your face closely? Does your baby follow the moving objects? At the end of 3 months, your baby will probably smile when he or she sees you and recognize your face. If these signs are missing, discuss it with your doctor.
If you're concerned about your infant's ability to hear, ask yourself these questions:
- Does the baby startle at an unexpected sound?
- Does the baby respond to the sound of my voice, even if he or she cannot see me? (Your baby's response might be to turn towards your voice, stop crying, to smile, or to get excited and move his or her arms and legs.)
- Does the baby respond to music and other sounds in your environment?
If you're still worried about your little one's hearing or vision, call your doctor. The earlier problems with seeing and hearing are discovered, the better they can be treated.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: September 2011
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