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Your Baby's 5 Senses

Touch

Touch is essential for your baby: Infants won't thrive without hugs, pats, and kisses. As your baby's sense of touch develops:

Swaddling can soothe. The whole experience  -- the warm, soft blanket, the tucked-in wrap  -- helps brand-new babies, fresh from the snugness of the womb, feel secure.

Everything goes into his mouth. Babies "feel" not only with their hands and fingers but with their mouths as well. That's why around 4 months old, your baby will put practically anything he can get his hands on into his mouth. It can seem a little gross, but it's all in the pursuit of knowledge.

He'll learn what's off-limits. While it's crucial to keep your baby away from anything that's sharp or hot, it's also good to know that babies learn important lessons about the world from accidental encounters, like banging their heads on table legs once they're crawling.

Textures are a thrill. Because babies learn by touching and mouthing everything, offer your baby books, toys, and loveys with lots of different textures to investigate. And be prepared for that first birthday cake to be squished as much as eaten!

Lisa Tucker McElroy, a mom of two, is the author of several children's books, including Love, Lizzie: Letters to a Military Mom.

Sight

Your baby's curious eyes take in everything, from your smiling face to the colors in her crib. As your baby's vision sharpens:

She only has eyes for you. A newborn can see only as far as her mother's face when she's feeding. Pretty convenient, for both of you: She figures out who you are, and you get a great bonding experience. A little later, she'll start to recognize her dad and other close caregivers.

Black and white are best  -- at first. By 2 months, your infant will be able to distinguish other colors as well, so don't stock up solely on black-and-white toys.

People are the most fun to look at. Your baby is reassured by the sight of familiar faces, and when she's a few months old, she'll love to look at pictures of other babies, too. By this time, she'll also be able to pick up on what facial expressions mean, so for her, the look on your face has even more meaning than the words you say.

She notices the decor. Babies are comforted by familiar surroundings as well as by people. If you move the crib or repaint the wall in her room, your baby may not be a big fan of the change right away. So just be sure to keep something familiar close by, and be prepared to weather a few tears until she gets used to the new look.

Hearing

Though your baby won't start talking for many months, his language skills will derive directly from the words and sounds he hears around him. As his sense of hearing develops:

He knows your voice. Within hours of birth, a newborn can tell his mother's voice from those of other women  -- and quickly associates comfort with the way you sound.

He misses the noises of the womb. Why do so many babies love swishing and whooshing sounds, like those the clothes dryer makes? Scientists think that it could be related to a baby's memory of the sounds of his mom's heart beating and blood flowing during the months he spent inside the womb.

Cooing is a hit. Because an infant's hearing isn't completely developed yet, he's more tuned in to high-pitched sounds. That's why he responds so well to baby talk (and that may be why you can't help doing it).

Sounds start to mean something. From a very early age, most babies respond in the same way to a full range of sound: lullabies and white noise soothe, loud sounds startle, and jazzy melodies perk them up. Over the first year, your baby may learn to associate certain noises with pleasurable experiences (the slam of the front door when you or Daddy comes home) or with negative ones (the roar of a crowd in an overwhelming situation).

He appreciates music. As he grows, his response to music develops and flourishes. "Mozart-based toys have been so successful because young babies really do like smooth, melodic tunes with pauses between sections," says Becky Spritz, Ph.D., a mom of two and a child psychologist at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island. (Classical music won't make your baby smarter, though. He just likes it.) By the time he's 1, he'll also enjoy more traditional kiddie tunes, and he'll even be able to tell the difference between similar-sounding songs.

Foreign languages sound foreign. Your baby may not actually understand a word you say, but he can tell when someone's not speaking his native language. This ability to discriminate between familiar and unfamiliar sounds helps babies learn to process  -- and eventually understand  -- spoken language.

Taste

Whether it's breast milk, formula, or pureed peas, babies are very aware of what goes into their mouths. How things taste and feel may also play an important safety role. A baby who puts something nasty in her mouth might spit it out instead of swallowing-a good thing if she's found dog poop or a slug on the sidewalk! As your baby's sense of taste develops:

She starts off with a sweet tooth. Breast milk is naturally sweet, so it can be a challenge to cultivate a baby's taste so that she'll be happy to down broccoli, chicken, and tomatoes in addition to sweet potatoes and pudding. But your baby's taste preferences will change quickly, and she needs time to get used to any new foods you want to offer, so keep trying.

Texture matters. Paula Beck, of Minneapolis, remembers when her son, Griffin, was 1 year old and first tasted cottage cheese. "He made a hilarious face and brushed his tongue and mouth with his hands until it was all gone," she says. Griffin may have been reacting to the flavor of the cottage cheese, but he could just as well have been put off by its texture.

Smell

While the ability to detect and differentiate odors evolves over time, even newborns have hardworking little noses. As your baby's sense of smell develops:

He knows your smell. A baby can distinguish his mother's scent pretty much from birth (and prefers it to anyone else's). So for comfort, your infant depends a great deal on what his nose knows.

Smell takes a backseat to sight. Once a baby's vision and hearing are more fully developed (when he's a few months old), he won't rely as much on sniffing to recognize people and things.

Some things stink. Though babies will wrinkle their noses at some foul odors, like spoiled food, they'll actually find others pleasing. Your baby won't mind the rank dog as much as the rest of you do  -- all he knows is that Spot smells like family.

Nice aromas soothe. Your baby also associates good smells, like lavender lotion or cookies baking, with good feelings. They can soothe him or make him smile with delight. Chances are, that's something the two of you have in common. Enjoy!

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