OK — I admit it. When each one of my three babies was born, I
jokingly called them "little blobs." After all, they didn't do
much. (Unless you count eating, pooping and sleeping 20 hours a day.)
What I didn't realize then was that my little blobs were busy absorbing
sights, sounds and more through their five senses — and learning at a
furious rate. "Every little bit of a newborn baby is like a sponge,"
says Natalie Robinson Garfield, author of "The Sense Connection" and a
specialist in infant and toddler development. "The baby connects to you
through each one of the senses as they try to figure out how the world
works. And you, the parents, are their guides."

Some senses (such as smell and taste) are at their most powerful at
birth, and hearing fully matures at 1 month, while sight develops
gradually over the first year. We asked the experts to explain how each
one works — and how parents can lend a helping hand as baby adjusts to
life outside the womb.

Making Scents

Believe it or not, the sense of smell is one of the earliest to
emerge in the fetus, says Alan Greene, M.D., clinical professor of
pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine and author of Raising
Baby Green
. "By the end of the first trimester baby can smell
foods that Mom is eating
," he says. "It's the predominant sense, very
early on, because smells cross the amniotic fluid." And by the end of
the first week of life, an infant's nose is so finely tuned that he can
tell the difference between the scent of his mother's breast milk and
that of another mom, Greene adds. "Newborns orient themselves by smell
more than any other sense," he says. "A baby placed on Mom's belly right
after birth will work his way up to the breast for the first nursing,
navigating by sense of smell."

How to help: You can use your baby's super-tuned sense of
smell to help soothe him, says Rahil Briggs, Psy.D., an infant and
toddler psychologist at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New
York City. "Many parents swear by a nightgown or other piece of clothing
that smells like Mom," she says. "Pleasant odors like lavender can also
be very soothing."

Did you know? Unborn babies are clearly aware of bad smells
early on, says Greene — a baby in the womb will actually cringe when
she smells cigarette smoke.

Hug Me, Kiss Me, Love Me

It seems counterintuitive, but the sense of touch is also important
to babies before they're born. "It's the primary way they explore their
world in utero," says Greene. "Babies push and pull, touch their own
faces and explore the lining of the womb." During the first few months
of life, babies rely on grown-ups for tactile stimulation and comfort,
he adds. "Early on, it's very passive on their part, because they can't
move too much." By four months, that changes; your baby can reach out
and begin actively touching whatever's nearby — blankets, toys, your

How to help: Babies' skin is ultra-sensitive, says Garfield,
so use a gentle touch when handling a newborn or massaging an older
baby. "Imagine that your baby's skin starts five inches from where it
really does," she says. "They can actually feel the vibrations from your
body before you touch them." Skin-to-skin contact feels especially
comforting to your baby, particularly if you lay her on your chest; such
"kangaroo care" can actually help regulate their breathing and body
temperature. Wearing your baby in a soft carrier, where she is in an
upright position and her face is not covered by any fabric, is a great
way to support her and keep her close all day — the swaying, rocking
and other rhythmic motions help her feel secure. When you put her down, a
tight swaddle recreates the snug feeling of the womb and may help
babies settle into sleep.

Did you know? At about eight months, a baby can touch and
identify a familiar object without seeing it, says Greene. "They explore
with their hands and create a mental image of the object — a block or
pacifier, for instance. Their tactile sense actually creates an
understanding of what the object is."

Out of Sight

Your baby's ability to see the world develops gradually over the
first six or seven months of life, says Glen Steele, O.D., chairman of
InfantSEE, a national program that provides free eye exams to infants 6
to 12 months old. Newborns can focus eight to 15 inches away (pretty
much the distance between their eyes and your face while nursing). By
the end of the first month, that distance has increased to about three
feet. As baby learns to track movement, don't be alarmed if her eyes
occasionally cross, says Steele. "By 3 months, she'll be able to fixate
on an object or face with both eyes coordinated," he says. If you think
your baby's eyes are not tracking together by 3 months of age, talk with
your pediatrician.

And while they're not exactly color-blind, babies do have trouble
distinguishing one color from another before 4 months — that's why
high-contrast toys and mobiles are better for their eyes (all those cute
nursery pastels are less distinguishable). By about 7 months, baby's
eyesight is mature, and soon after, her eye-hand coordination and depth
perception have improved enough to reach for a toy outside her immediate

How to help: The number-one way to boost baby's vision: Make
eye contact with your newborn to help him focus on your face.
And forget
the multi-tasking, says Steele; pay attention to your baby when you're
feeding him — don't text, talk on the phone or look at the computer.
Later, make sure your baby gets plenty of tummy time and isn't in a
"container" (e.g., a car seat or carrier) for hours on end. "Neck and
head development is essential for developing good vision because baby
needs to raise his head to draw close to a face," says Steele. A special
note for bottle-feeding moms and dads: Switch sides, just as a
breastfeeding mom would, so that both of baby's eyes get an equal

Did you know? Early on, babies focus almost exclusively on
their parents' eyes, says Greene — but not just one. "If a parent
closes one eye, the baby will often look away," he says. "He wants to
look at both eyes."

Now hear this! When your baby startles at even a soft noise,
it's no wonder — his hearing is better than yours. In fact, a human
being's sense of hearing is up and running even before birth. "They
really pay attention to noises outside the womb, and studies have shown
that they do recognize mom's voice."

You can tell your baby is hearing well if he turns toward your voice,
says Michele Saysana, M.D., fellow of the the American Academy of
Pediatrics, and assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at the
Indiana University School of Medicine. At about 2 months, babies begin
to respond to their parents' voices by cooing, and soon they're
repeating some vowel sounds like ah-ah-ah and ooh-ooh-ooh. "By about 4
months, they start to babble," says Saysana. "At a year or so, they
begin saying words, such as dada and mama — the easiest for babies to

How to Help: Babies prefer high-pitched voices, so don't be
bashful about using baby talk (ditto for soft singing). Do make sure
infants aren't exposed to loud noises, such as blaring music or power
tools, that could damage their hearing, says Saysana. "All babies should
have their hearing tested within the first month of life, and many
hospitals routinely screen newborns for hearing problems," she says.
Parents should also keep an eye on their infant's response to sounds as
well as on her speech development. If your baby doesn't respond to
sound, or isn't babbling by 7 months, talk to your pediatrician; it
could mean a problem with her hearing or speech development.

Did you know? Hearing-related memory is amazingly long in
babies, says Greene. During one study, pregnant women played a song of
their choice to their unborn babies. As part of the experiment, the moms
purposely didn't play that song for a year after birth. Even after not
hearing it for a year, the babies showed recognition when the familiar
song was played (as opposed to other, unfamiliar songs.

Go Ahead, Have a Taste

Taste buds are fully formed at birth, and newborns naturally prefer
sweet over salty flavors, says Saysana — which is a good thing, as both
breast milk and formula are sweet. Once babies are ready for solid food
(usually at around 6 months), they still tend to prefer sweeter tastes
such as fruit and sweet potatoes to stronger-tasting veggies. Keep in
mind that because babies' taste buds are so sensitive, bitter flavors
such as spinach may be overwhelming to them.

How to help: A tendency toward picky eating may develop even
before baby has her first swallow of colostrum, says Nancy Tringali
Piho, author of My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who
Love to Eat Everything
. "A lot of research suggests moms should try
to eat a broad and varied healthful diet during pregnancy," she says.
"And since babies do get flavors through breast milk, moms should
continue to eat a wide variety of foods while breastfeeding." The fact
that babies in other cultures readily eat what we might consider exotic
fare — even spicy Indian or Mexican dishes — is evidence that babies
do adapt to mom's diet
, she adds. To get your baby to eat a new food,
you may need to introduce it again and again. "It may take up to 15
exposures for him to like a new food
," says Piho. "You need to get into
the mindset that you're going to eat healthfully. It really does play
out over time."

Fun fact: Babies are born with about 10,000 taste buds. Women
gradually begin losing them when they reach somewhere between 40 and 50
years old (between 50 and 60 for men). Taste buds aren't replaced as we
age, which is one reason older adults generally like foods that taste


Source: Parenting Magazine – http://tinyurl.com/yyuxflr