Children's Health and Wellness

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 described below.

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 newborn babies feel secure. You can buy a special swaddling blanket designed to make swaddling easier.

Don’t use swaddling if your baby is older than 2 months or is trying to roll over on his or her own. Swaddling may raise the risk for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) if the swaddled baby rolls onto his or her stomach.

When you swaddle, give your baby enough room to move his or her hips and legs. The legs should be able to bend up and out at the hips. Don’t place your baby’s legs so that they are held together and straight down. This raises the risk that the hip joints won’t grow and develop correctly. This can cause a problem called hip dysplasia and dislocation.

Also be careful of swaddling your baby if the weather is warm or hot. Using a thick blanket in warm weather can make your baby overheat. Instead use a lighter blanket or sheet to swaddle the baby.

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. 

Print Source: McDonnell, Emily. Infant Deaths and Injuries Associated with Wearable Blankets, Swaddle Wraps, and Swaddling. The Journal of Pediatrics. 2014: 164, 5th ed. pp. 1152-1156.
Online Source: Infant vision: birth to 24 months, American Optometric Associationhttp://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/good-vision-throughout-life/childrens-vision/infant-vision-birth-to-24-months-of-age?sso=y
Online Source: Newborn Smell & Touch, AAPhttps://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/Pages/Newborn-Smell-and-Touch.aspx
Online Source: Purpose of newborn hearing screening, AAP https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/Pages/Purpose-of-Newborn-Hearing-Screening.aspx
Online Editor: Sinovic, Dianna
Online Editor: Tchang, Kimberly
Online Medical Reviewer: Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Lee, Kimberly G., MD, MSc, IBCLC
Online Medical Reviewer: Godsey, Cynthia, MSN, APRN, MSHE, FNP-BC
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2016
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