Every minute that they're awake awake, babies take in the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of the world around them.
Although it may take a while to understand what all this information means, your baby can still find joy and comfort in the familiar faces, voices, and sensations of everyday life.
What Can My Baby See?
Babies this age can focus on shapes that are close by, but see distant objects as blurry because they are nearsighted. As babies grow, eyesight improves. By the end of 3 months, they can follow a moving object, are more interested in shapes and patterns, and can spot familiar faces, even at a distance. Human faces are one of their favorite things to look at, especially their own or a parent's face. Install a baby-safe crib mirror at your baby's eye level and see how your baby watches himself or herself.
Your baby's color vision is also developing, so brightly colored wall hangings or toys will help develop your little one's ability to distinguish color. Soft pastel colors, though, are hard for a baby to appreciate — something to keep in mind when buying toys and books.
What Can My Baby Hear?
Your baby has been hearing sounds since way back in the womb. Mother's heartbeat, the gurgles of her digestive system, and even the sounds of her voice and the voices of other family members are part of a baby's world before birth.
Once your baby is born, the sounds of the outside world come in loud and clear. Your baby may startle at the unexpected bark of a dog nearby or seem soothed by the gentle whirring of the clothes dryer or the hum of the vacuum cleaner.
Your baby loves to hear your voice, so talk, babble, sing, and coo away. Take special advantage of your baby's own "talking" to have a "conversation." If you hear your baby make a sound, repeat it and wait for him or her to make another. You are teaching your baby valuable lessons about tone, pacing, and taking turns when talking to someone else.
Babies this age seem to respond best to a higher-pitched voice, which is why most people naturally raise the pitch of their voices and exaggerate their speech when talking to a baby. This is fine — studies have shown that "baby talk" doesn't delay speech development. In fact, responding to your baby encourages speech. Feel free to mix in some regular adult words and tone with the baby talk. It may seem early, but you're setting the stage for your baby's first words.
Besides voices, your baby will probably enjoy listening to music (play a variety of styles) and may be fascinated by the routine sounds of life as well. Keep your baby nearby as you rattle pans while making dinner, and let him or her sit in a baby seat within earshot of older siblings laughing and playing. Baby rattles and musical mobiles and toys are other good ways to stimulate your baby's hearing.
Your newborn probably had a hearing screening before being released from the hospital (most states require this). If not, or if your baby was born at home or a birthing center, it's important to have a hearing screening as soon as possible. Most children who are born with a hearing loss can be diagnosed through a hearing screening.
What Can My Baby Taste and Smell?
Your baby can taste and smell and will favor sweet tastes over bitter ones. For example, a baby will choose to suck on a bottle of sweetened water, but will turn away or cry if given something bitter or sour to taste. Likewise, babies will turn toward smells they favor and turn away from bad odors.
Though sweetness is preferred, taste preferences will continue to develop during the first year. In fact, studies show that a mother's diet can affect the way her breast milk tastes. These first flavors can help shape flavor preferences later on. For example, a mother who ate spicy foods while nursing is likely to have a child who grows up to favor spicy foods.
It won't be long before your baby will be reaching out and touching everything. But now, your baby depends on you to provide touch. Babies know they're loved and cared for when they're held, hugged, and kissed.
Make it fun, too. Your baby will respond joyfully to a game of "This Little Piggy" as you touch your baby's toes or fingers. Introduce different textures and temperatures: the softness of a feather, the hardness of a wooden block, the cool feel of a window in winter. When babies feel the world around them, they learn about life.
If You're Worried
If you want a little reassurance that your baby's senses are working well, you can do some unscientific testing for yourself.
For example, if you're worried about your baby's vision, notice if your baby watches your face closely. Does your baby watch moving objects? Your baby may appear cross-eyed when trying to look at something that is close. This is usually normal in the first few months. Let your doctor know if your child's eyes turn in or out.
If you're worried about your baby's hearing, ask yourself these questions:
Does the baby startle at an unexpected sound?
Does the baby respond to the sound of your voice, even if he or she cannot see you? (Your baby's response might be to turn toward your voice, stop crying, smile, or get excited and move his or her arms and legs.)
Does the baby respond to music and other sounds in your environment?
If you're still worried about your little one's hearing or vision, talk to your doctor. The earlier problems with seeing and hearing are found, the better they can be treated.