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Sensory and Motor Growth in Newborns

Topic Overview

Newborn senses

Your newborn is equipped with all five senses, although some are more developed than others.

  • Touch. Your newborn's sense of touch is highly developed, particularly around the mouth, where he or she is sensitive to temperature, pressure, and pain. Newborns like gentle handling and to feel soft textures against their skin.
  • Hearing. At birth, fluid in the ear canal and middle ear may affect your baby's hearing. This fluid usually clears in a few days, and after that your newborn can hear fairly well. Babies are especially responsive to high-pitched and loud sounds. Your newborn baby also recognizes and prefers the mother's voice.
  • Smell. Like touch, your newborn has a well-developed sense of smell. Your baby is also tuned into the smell of the mother and can recognize her scent within the first few days of life. Newborns like sweet smells.
  • Taste. Newborns prefer sweet tastes; they generally avoid sour, bitter, and salty tastes.
  • Sight. Newborns' vision and their responses to what they see develop rapidly during the first year. Your newborn sees best out of the corner of his or her eyes (peripheral vision) and when objects are about 9 in. (23 cm) to 12 in. (30.5 cm) away. Newborns can see color, but are most attracted to bold and contrasting patterns. By 3 months of age, infants can look directly at and follow objects. Around this time they are also particularly attracted to the human face. Don't be alarmed if your baby's eyes wander or cross periodically during the first month—this is normal. Children with normal vision usually develop 20/20 or 20/40 eyesight by 3 years of age.

Newborn motor skills

Motor skills develop as your baby's muscles and nerves work together.

Reflexes prompt your newborn's limb movements. Reflexes are involuntary movements made when another part of the body is stimulated. For example, when the side of a newborn's cheek is touched, the baby turns his or her head in that direction, opens his or her mouth, and tries to suck. This is called the rooting reflex. Newborn reflexes disappear in the first months of life as the brain matures.

Your newborn's spontaneous movements generally affect both sides of the body. In addition, when your baby's limbs are extended, he or she will instinctively snap back to a flexed position. When a newborn is alert, his or her hands are tightly fisted.

Newborns often have jittery or jerky movements. These are normal and gradually disappear over the first few weeks. Their arms and fingers sometimes make smooth and graceful movements.

Your baby may become fussy toward the end of the day. This may be a way for the baby's immature nervous system to handle the accumulated stimulation from the day.

Related Information

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerSusan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerJohn Pope, MD, MPH - Pediatrics

Current as ofMarch 28, 2018


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