Newborn Senses

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


Over the first few months, babies may have uncoordinated eye movements and may even appear cross-eyed. Stages of eye development:
  • Babies are born with the ability to focus only at close range — 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.
  • 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.
  • Focus improves over the first 2 to 3 years of life to a normal 20/20 vision.


During pregnancy, many mothers find that the baby may kick or jump in response to loud noises and 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 voice, and 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 also have the ability to tune out loud noises after hearing them several times.
  • Newborns are screened for hearing while still in the hospital.


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


Babies prefer sweet tastes over sour or bitter tastes. Babies also show a strong preference for breast milk and breastfeeding, especially if they are breastfed and then offered formula or a bottle.


Babies are comforted by touch. Here are a few ways to help your baby feel secure:
  • Place a hand on the baby's abdomen, or cuddle him or her close.
  • Swaddling (wrapping snugly in a blanket) is another technique used to help babies feel secure.
  • Some mothers find their babies are comforted when "worn" in a sling or carrier.
  • Holding a baby for feedings is also important.
  • Breastfeeding ensures that a baby spends several hours in mother's arms. Although bottle feeding of breast milk may also be done.

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