We have 7 senses, not 5, but not all of them are fully developed at birth:
- Vision. Babies have very poor vision with no depth perception. They can see about 8-10” away, the distance from the breast to your face. They also don’t have very good color perception and prefer high contrast, like your areola compared to your breast. Over the first few months, babies may have uncoordinated eye movements and may even appear cross-eyed.
- 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 actually do have fully developed hearing, but they are still learning to process and interpret what they hear. They know your voice and prefer it above all others. They also know your language and can distinguish it from other forgiven languages. A song or book they heard while in utero will also be preferred to a new one they’ve never heard before.
- Smell. Babies have a fully developed sense of smell. Your amniotic fluid changes smell based on what you ate and your hormones. Those little bumps that developed around your areola secrete and oil that smells like your amniotic fluid, helping baby locate dinner. Your body odor also changes and become more pungent to help baby know it’s you and bond to you as caregiver. Avoid washing in strong soaps or using a lot of deodorants and perfumes. You’re supposed to be stinky.
- Taste. While breast milk constantly changes in flavor based on what you eat, and has a similar flavor profile to what you ate during pregnancy and flavored your amniotic fluid, baby’s sense of taste isn’t fully developed at birth. Flavors are much stronger for them and they prefer sweet (which is most like the sweetness of breast milk) to bitter or sour.
- Touch. This is one of the strongest sense at birth. Touch is very powerful and can elicit reflexes in the baby to help them survive. Touching baby’s mouth gets them to root for a good latch. Touching the roof of their mouth triggers a sucking reflex which helps them feed. Being held in skin to skin contact regulates their heart rate, respiratory rate, blood sugar and temperature. They know they’re on an adult who will protect, defend and care for them. Do not underestimate the power of infant touch.
- Proprioception. The body awareness sense which tells us where our body parts in relationship to each other. It also gives us information about how much force to use, allowing us to grab the object we want without crushing it. This sense is developed by experience and babies need to use all of their other senses to mature these skills over their first year of life and beyond. Reflexive movements in response to movement and sensory input help lay the foundation for posture and motor planning later on.
- Vestibular. This sense is all about balance and movement, which tells us where our body is in space. It is the first sense to be fully developed by 6 months gestation. It is the unifying system in our brain that modifies and coordinates information received from other systems. Some babies, especially if premature, can be very sensitive to our handling and have difficulties going from one position to another. They can get easily unsettled with diaper changes and switching breasts. When a baby has an overactive vestibular system, they can displays gravitational insecurity and an intolerance to movement. Working with physical and occupational therapy can work through vestibule disorders.