Stimulating your newborn’s senses has been proven to help improve motor function, awareness, and even intelligence. There are many theories on how sensory development can be stimulated into action and their overall effect but there is no doubt that loving parental interaction that involves all 5 of the senses can be beneficial to the bonding process as well a neuron activity in the brain.
When you opt to intentionally stimulate your newborn’s senses you do want to ovoid overstimulation. Just like music can sound pleasant to your ears, music that is blared at top volume can be overwhelming and have the opposite effect. Remember that stimulation is very much like encouragement. You offer the stimulation in a pleasant manner and pay attention to negative reactions.
The more aware of your baby’s reactions you are the more you will understand how your newborn’s senses can be stimulated. Not all babies are born alike. You will have some that thrive on the sound of music floating into the room and others that are only interested in tuning out the world. Paying attention to what you’re doing and how he is reacting is the best way to understand the stimulation process for your particular child.
A Lost Sense
If you are intentionally stimulating your newborn’s sense and you suspect that one sense is not functioning, do not panic. First and foremost, it is not uncommon for some senses to finish developing after birth. For various reasons a child’s hearing or sight may not have fully developed but yet everything remains normal. Within the first few weeks there is an obvious change in development and the child grows up without a lost sense. Many parents don’t even realize that their newborns can’t hear or see and development proceeds as it would in the womb.
Children that do not naturally gain their senses can be helped through sensory stimulation during these early weeks. They can learn to get in tune with their remaining senses at a faster rate when parents interact with them on an intentional but loving level. Naturally, if you suspect that your newborn does not have all of his or her senses it is prudent to let the pediatrician know.
Because a baby’s sense of smell, hearing, sight, and taste are under developed touch is the most important sense to a newborn. Everything that they feel will have an impact on their development. This is why it is important to always consider factors like temperature, softness, and the potential for irritation before something touches your newborn.
Touching their hands, feet, legs, and arms in smooth motions can help increase the rate at which they become aware of their own extremities. Simple things like kisses on the bottoms of the feet and gentle infant massages on the legs can help improve the external awareness.
One of the most common things a baby feels internally is discomfort after eating. Developing a touch based ritual that involves gentle tummy massage can be helpful on so many levels.
In the first two months most experts believe that it is not productive to introduce your baby to new sensations through their own fingertips. A few experts think that it’s possible to trigger a neuron response that heightens the awareness of touch, but the nerve endings are not fine tuned enough to tell subtle differences in texture. For instance, if you place your fingertips in a bowl of rice and place your other hand in a bowl of tapioca pudding you will notice a textural difference. Your baby won’t.
It will be a few months before textural changes that are not of sharp contrast will be taken into account. Textures of sharp contrast are not necessarily going to appropriate for your newborn’s touch senses, as cold, hot, rough and such elements have the potential to cause discomfort or injury.
Hearing is a developing sense in a newborn. Stimulating the hearing can be as simple as just talking to your new baby in pitches that are most conducive to helping him adjust to life. Most of us will naturally talk to a new baby with sweet, soothing sounds. This is because these are the sounds that babies are most inclined toward and the instinct is within us to do so.
You can also stimulate your baby’s hearing with music. Keep it quiet and soft and avoid music that is going to have a heavy drum beat or electric guitar. There are specific CDs created to help you stimulate the hearing. These CDs are often based on scientific research for developing different parts of the brain as well as offering sounds that are comforting to a new baby.
Sight stimulation is a little more complex. You certainly aren’t going to hold up flashcards for a baby that can’t focus on them yet. Yet there are some sights that can be stimulating for the brain and others that can be soothing. It is believed that if a baby is exposed to the color red through intervals of 6 to 12 hour periods for the first 7 days of life that you can increase his IQ by at least 15 points. No one is really sure if this is true or not, but this is the intention behind the crib mobiles that are black, white, and red.
Let your baby see your face when you talk to him. Allow stimulation of sight to be pleasant. Do not put things in your baby’s face in an attempt to stimulate sight as this can easily produce overstimulation and really won’t do any good. The object that you might have on hand may or may not seem interesting to your newborn. You really can’t tell exactly what a newborn can truly see. Over time it’s perfectly acceptable to show him around and tell him about things that you hope for. If he isn’t focusing on the visual he is still listening to your voice and the two of you are still bonding.
Taste is not a sense that you can stimulate in a newborn. His diet is intentionally created by nature or the nearest replica of nature to allow him the most digestible diet. Offering your newborn new tastes will be detrimental.
Often you can see the results of certain foods getting into his system when a mother is nursing. If she had Mexican the night before it’s not unusual to have a very cranky baby. This is why certain dietary restrictions are suggested, but it has nothing to do with his sense of taste.
It is not yet clearly understood exactly how much baby’s can smell. There are certainly scientifically based speculations about the potential for smell. Yet there are no real conclusions that can be taken as absolute fact. It is still advisable that you avoid strong smells. Using potent air fresheners or incense sticks is not recommended during the first months of a new baby’s life. The most important smell to stimulate for your baby is simply the smell of his family.
When a baby is nursing or held he potentially can register the smell of his family members, which in turn can create a sense of comfort and ease. The smell of the mother is thought to be particularly important for triggering reflexes that encourage suckling.
Regardless of whether or not a newborn can truly smell or if it’s creative conjecture, being close to your baby helps increase the potential for bonding and stimulates a connection that helps improve his likelihood for health and happiness.