Sensory Development for Babies

Babies develop faster in the first year of their lives than at any other time. They use their senses to discover the world around them recognising sounds and smells from the moment they are born and figuring out their surroundings with sight and touch.

Interestingly, the senses of a baby begin to develop long before she is born. Touch begins to develop from just 7-8 weeks gestation, her first taste buds develop at around 10 weeks and by around 23 weeks she can detect sounds from the outside world.

The sense of touch

The baby’s sense of touch is highly developed at birth and touch will be the first way you communicate with your child. Their mouth is particularly sensitive and you’ll notice how they use it to explore the world.

From a very young age your baby will enjoy being stroked and touched, and gentle touch is one of the best ways of soothing your baby. They love lots of skin to skin contact and the best news is it’s great for parents too as it boosts levels of oxytocin.

A baby might enjoy a massage, you gently blow on their skin, the sensation of being in a warm bath or touching different textures. As they get bigger and their muscles develop they will start to reach out and grab things, exploring them with their hands and mouths.

Hearing and development

A baby's hearing is essentially fully developed when they are born; they use their hearing to make sense of the world and learn to communicate. In fact, the parts of the brain that interpret and attach meaning to sounds continue to develop until a child is around 12.

Talk, read and sing to your baby from the moment they are born, before if you like, as this will help their development. As they get bigger they will delight in trying to mimic noises and love toys that allow them to make noise. Rattles and crinkly toys are great as they allow babies to start to learn about cause and effect.

How babies see the world

Sight is the least developed of the senses at birth but is still a powerful way for babies to take in information about the world around them and by the time they are 6-8 months they can see pretty much the same as we do.

To begin with babies can't focus more than a foot away from their faces so get in close and let them explore your face. They also struggle to distinguish between similar colours so high contrast patterns in black and white will probably get the most attention.

After a couple of months bright primary colours will become more appealing, and by around 4 months their perception is good enough that they can locate an object and make a grab for it. At around 3-4 months they will also be able to track objects that move in front of their faces and will follow your face or a toy with their eyes.

Taste and smell

Taste and smell are closely connected and both are pretty well developed by the time your baby is born. They will already recognise your smell and use their sense of smell to seek out the boob or the bottle.

Breast fed babies will be able to taste a difference in their milk depending on what you have eaten, and all babies can find strong smells overpowering, to the point where they might not feed as well if there are particularly strong scents.

Babies find familiar smells comforting which is why you might find they sleep better with a favourite comforter or one of mum or dads t-shirts. And when they start to eat solids they use their sense of taste and smell to decide if they like what they are trying.

All babies senses can be stimulated and developed through play. Discover what is sensory play for babies here.

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