Providing Touch, Sight and Sound for Newborns
Newborn babies smell so fresh and look so cherubic. They sleep about 16 hours a day and may seem oblivious to their surroundings. Yet, these first few weeks are essential for your baby to learn proper bonding and certain life skills.
Even at this very early age, babies are learning about the world. They focus on faces, learning to distinguish their own mothers from strangers. They recognize and respond to their parents’ voices, and may turn towards the sound. It’s important to encourage this learning with smiles and caresses.
According to Dr. Mary Gavin, pediatrician at the DuPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, “The first thing your baby will learn is to connect the feel of your touch, the sound of your voice, and the sight of your face with getting his or her needs for comfort and food met.”
Respond to your baby’s cooing by talking back; this interaction will train your baby with conversation skills.
In the child’s first few weeks, stimulate your baby with age-appropriate toys, such as rattles, crib mirrors, mobiles and music. Bright colors, lullabies, and swings all provide excellent excitement. Put on some cheerful tunes and dance with your baby. Making faces at your baby will entertain you both, and encourage your child to mimic, strengthening baby’s facial muscles.
During the first few weeks, babies have a “rooting reflex.” Stroking the baby’s cheek will cause him to turn his head in that direction, looking for a breast to suckle. Other inborn reflexes include grasping and sucking.
Another reflex is the “Moro,” or startle reflex. If your baby hears a loud noise or feels as if he is falling, the baby will startle, extending arms and legs and arching the back. Sometimes the startle reflex kicks in when mom tries to put the baby down to sleep. To calm this response, try swaddling the baby, wrapping gently from the neck down in a light blanket. Be sure to loosen the blanket to avoid overheating.
For sleep, always lay your baby down on the back, not chest. Because babies have weak neck muscles, there’s a risk of suffocation if they’re face down. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ safe sleep guidelines, babies should sleep on a firm, flat surface free of pillows, blankets and other soft bedding until at least the age of one.
Last but not least, breastfeeding is the best food, but commercial formula baby food is fine. Solid foods can be introduced at six months, at which time your baby’s life experiences expand to include more taste sensations.
Newborns count on their mothers to provide a safe and loving home. With proper stimulation, they’ll blossom into happy children.
Philip L. Levin, MD is a Coast-based physician and writer. He is the author of numerous award-winning stories and poems, many nonfiction articles, and eight published books, including two children’s books.