by Anya Dunham, PhD
Six scientific findings show how capable, aware, and sensitive your amazing newborn is.
Our babies are a complex mix of competence and needs: they are already complete and so full of potential.
In the new parent haze, it is easy to under-estimate or even miss the things newborns can already do.
Here are 6 scientific findings that show just how capable and aware, sensitive, and ready to connect and learn newborns are. Consider them as you get ready to meet your baby or watch your tiny newborn.
1). Babies develop the ability to hear sounds during the second trimester of pregnancy. In the third trimester a baby can recognize his mother’s voice,3-5 the sound of his mother’s native language,6 and familiar stories she has been reciting.7 This means babies not only hear quite well, but also pay attention, learn, and memorize even before they are born!4
2). Newborn’s vision is not fully developed at birth, but he is able to work out the shapes and features of objects that are close to him and that interact with him.8 He prefers looking at human faces9 and learns to recognize his mother’s face within hours of birth if he was also able to hear her voice.10 This means that a newborn’s vision and ability to recognize patterns are already sufficient to connect the voice he remembers to the face he now sees. Babies learn incredibly quickly!
3). A newborn can tell if someone is looking at her or away from her.11 Newborns are perceptive.
4). Newborns are calmed by soothing touch, but may find it stressful when touched in silence and without eye contact. In one study, newborns’ stress hormone levels dropped when they were massaged by a caregiver who made eye contact, spoke soothingly, and rocked them gently afterward. But when they were massaged in silence and without eye contact, they experienced a stress hormone surge, similar to babies undergoing painful procedures.12 Newborns are sensitive and ready to connect.
5). Babies experience a variety of tastes while still in the womb and, if fed breastmilk, right after birth. Amniotic fluid and breastmilk carry flavours from the mother’s diet, so the baby begins learning about the foods that are important to her family and culture right from the start.13,14 Newborns are aware.
6). Babies are born with an innate ability to feed well. When a healthy newborn is placed skin-to-skin on her mother’s chest after birth and given time, she will use her arms and legs to move to the breast and latch to feed for the first time — remarkably, all by herself.15 You might have heard of this phenomenon as ‘the breast crawl’. Newborns are capable.
I talk about how to incorporate these and other scientific findings into day-by-day baby care in my book, Baby Ecology.
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2. Beebe B (2014) My journey in infant research and psychoanalysis: microanalysis, a social microscope. Psychoanalytic Psychology 31(1): 4-25
3. DeCasper A, Fifer W (1980) Of human bonding: newborns prefer their mothers' voices. Science 208(4448): 1174-1176
4. Kisilevsky BS et al (2003) Effects of experience on fetal voice recognition. Psychological Science 14(3): 220-224
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11. Farroni T et al (2002) Eye contact detection in humans from birth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99(14): 9602-9605
12. White-Traut RC et al (2009) Salivary cortisol and behavioral state responses of healthy newborn infants to tactile-only and multisensory interventions. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic and Neonatal Nursing 38(1): 22-34
13. Mennella JA (1995) Mother's milk: a medium for early flavor experiences. Journal of Human Lactation 11(1): 39-45
14. Schaal B, Marlier L, Soussignan R (2000) Human foetuses learn odours from their pregnant mother’s diet. Chemical Senses 25(6): 729-737
15. Klaus M (1998) Mother and infant: early emotional ties. Pediatrics 102(Supplement E1): 1244-1246
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