Your Infant's Sensory Abilities

Learn what newborn babies can see, hear, and feel.
Table of contents

In this article, you will find:

Vision and hearing

Your Infant's Sensory Abilities


Because your baby might like pastels later, feel free to decorate her room in such colors even though she can't see them right away. But add touches that offer sharp contrasts: a black-and-white mobile hanging over the crib, a checkerboard or other black-and-white pattern on the wall next to the changing table, black-and-white toys or stuffed animals. You might also choose to wear clothes that present her with a sharply contrasting pattern to study.

During the first week of life, your baby will have limited vision. She can focus best on objects that are 7 to 12 inches away from her eyes. (Conveniently, this distance approximates the distance of your face when you hold your baby in your arms to feed her.) Within weeks, the range of her sight will expand. Yet although she can now see objects that are farther away, she will probably show interest-through facial expressions or coos and gurgles-only in those objects that remain fairly close.

Most babies can also distinguish between various patterns and shapes. Although they may not be able to make out all of the subtle features of the human face, most babies nonetheless like to look at faces more than any other pattern or shape. Take advantage of your baby's visual preference: Make eye contact often and smile at your baby. She will return the eye contact almost immediately-and in time, she will return the smile, too.

Because newborns best perceive sharply contrasting patterns of light and darkness, the pastel pinks and blues traditionally used to decorate a baby's nursery have little benefit for your baby-at least in her first weeks.

Most babies also have a limited ability to track the movement of objects with their head and eyes or with their eyes alone. Babies can track movement only for a short distance and only if the objects move slowly.

Games such as peekaboo make little sense at this age. If you aren't in the direct line of your baby's sight, you are-for all intents and purposes-gone. Even if you just hide your face behind your hands, your baby no longer knows you're there.

Do You Hear What I Hear?


Your baby will probably also like repetitive, rhythmic sounds that mimic the sound of vibrations or the heartbeat that he heard while he was still in the womb. Tapes of heart sounds, the beating of a tom-tom or other drum, and the loud hum of a vacuum cleaner will all be music to your baby's ears.

Most babies have a sensitive sense of hearing, and they pay careful attention to the noises in their world. Your baby can distinguish among a wide variety of different sounds. Like most newborns, he will probably show a particular fondness for human voices in preference to other sounds. Talking softly to your baby will stimulate his sense of hearing in a way he will enjoy.

Babies can track sounds, just as they can track motion. Within several weeks of birth, your baby may even begin to look toward the source of your voice or another favorite sound-a remarkably early coordination of the senses of sight and hearing.