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Your baby's senses

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Get to grips with your baby’s senses

All of your baby’s senses are present at birth and will help him to absorb a lot of information about the outside world.

Here we will look at the four senses your little one has and how you can stimulate them.

Sight

At birth your baby’s sight is blurry so he can see things best when they are between 20-35cm (8-10 ins) away.

From a few weeks old he will enjoy looking at black and white patterns and strong primary colours. By around two months he will be able to keep his gaze on a moving object such as a mobile over the cot, or a toy dangling from a baby gym.

At six months he will be able to focus at any distance and you’ll notice that his hand-eye co-ordination is developing. At this age he can look for and reach out for an object and pass it from hand to hand. By the time he reaches a year his vision will be nearly as good as an adults.

How you can help

  • Lie him on a colourful mat with a mirror so that he can watch himself
  • Play simple hand games, such as pat-a-cake to help his hand-eye development
  • Choose toys with buttons and other manipulative features that when pressed or touched trigger a sound or light that will encourage repeated movements.

Hearing

From about 20 weeks your unborn baby can start detecting sounds and in the last few weeks before he’s born you may become aware of him moving in response to external sounds.

When he is born your baby will already know the sound of your voice and may respond to music that he’s heard in the womb. If you shake a rattle he may turn his eyes towards the sound you are making.

By three months your baby will be trying to duplicate the sounds he hears by cooing. Round about six months, he’ll be using his own voice to babble, which is his way of talking.

When he’s reached one year he will understand the meaning of many of the words he hears and may be able to say a few of them.

How you can help

  • Make music together with toy instruments that can be banged and rattled
  • Read books with your babies that have colourful pictures and things to press which makes a noise
  • Talk about the things you can see when you are out and about and encourage him to imitate sounds of ducks, tractors and cars

Smell

As early as the third trimester your baby will have begun to detect different odours through your amniotic fluid.

By the time he is born his sense of smell will be well developed and he will quickly learn to recognise your smell and he’ll be able to distinguish the smell of your breast milk from that of other mothers.

Babies are comforted by familiar scents so he’s much more likely to settle in your arms when he’s upset than anyone else’s.

Your baby’s sense of smell will continue to develop and he will learn to distinguish different smells as he gets older. By the time he is a year old he will have begun to recognise the smell of different foods and this will play a large part in what foods he likes or dislikes.

How you can help

  • Encourage your baby to smell different items such as wax crayons, coffee beans, herbs and flowers and explain what each item is
  • Make sure he doesn't inhale or touch items that could irritate such as pepper or spices that can create a burning sensation in the back of the nose
  • Strong smells such as cigarette smoke and deodorisers can be overwhelming to a baby, so keep them away from any strong odours.

Touch

Your newborn is aware of different textures and will love having skin-to-skin contact with you. During the first few months your baby will use his mouth to explore textures.

At around six months he will start to use his hands as well as his mouth to get the feel of different items. Once he becomes mobile he will want to touch and feel everything.

Soft toys with different textures or fabrics will help to develop your baby’s sense of touch as he learns to hold and grasp items.

How you can help

  • You can stimulate your baby’s sense of touch using a variety of different materials such as felt, tissue, fur and sandpaper
  • Read books to your baby that make touching part of the reading experience
  • Look for toys that have ribbons, moulded characters, different textiles and fabric

Taste

Your newborn will definitely prefer the sweet taste of breast milk or formula to sour or bitter flavours. But as his taste develops you may find that he starts to show a preference for salty things.

It is thought that breastfed babies may be more open to a range of flavours because they are used to the changing flavour of your breast milk which is affected by the things you eat, so it could be garlicky one day and minty the next.

Encouraging your baby to try a wide range of different flavours will make it less likely that he will become a fussy eater.

How you can help

  • Let your baby see you eating and enjoying lots of different foods
  • If he’s reluctant to try new foods once he’s on solids take a poonful for yourself so he can see that you think the food is tasty
  • Don’t force your baby to eat things he doesn't like, but don’t offer alternatives either. Take the disliked food away and wait a few days before offering it again.
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