Babies this age are honing all five senses, understanding and learning more and more from what they see, hear, and feel.
What Can My Baby See?
Babies this age can see much farther away (several feet) than just a few months ago. They can usually focus without going cross-eyed and can tell the difference between different colors.
Your baby is becoming much more aware of the environment. He or she can now follow the course of a rolling ball and watch the quick movements of an older sibling playing nearby. You may see your baby staring in concentration while holding a toy or studying his or her own hands. Hand-eye coordination is improving, so watch as your little one stares for a while at an object, then slowly reaches out to get it.
Help improve your baby's sight skills with these tips:
If your baby has been looking at the same toys or crib mobile for several months, now is a good time to change the scenery. Around 5 or 6 months most babies start to pull themselves up to a sitting position, so if you have a mobile over the crib or wall hangings within reach, remove them so your baby doesn't get hurt.
Babies this age enjoy more complex patterns and color variations. Try reading bookswith large, brightly colored pictures to your baby, who will enjoy staring at the pages.
Stimulate your baby's vision with trips out into the world. Walks in the neighborhood, a trip to the supermarket, or an outing to the local zoo all provide wonderful opportunities for your baby to see new things.
What Can My Baby Hear?
Hearing is crucial to developing the ability to talk, and now your baby is beginning to pick out the parts of speech.
When younger, your baby understood your meaning through the tone of your voice: soothing tones made your baby stop crying, agitated tones meant something was wrong. Now, your baby can hear and pick up on the different sounds you make and the way words form sentences. In the next few months, your baby will respond to "no" and recognize and respond to his or her own name.
Babies this age also are cooing and may start to babble and make more attempts to imitate sounds. Make no mistake, these are your baby's early attempts at speaking and should be encouraged as much as possible. So, repeat sounds you hear your baby making and introduce simple words that apply to everyday life. Have "conversations" with your baby and wait for a pause in the babble to "answer." The give-and-take of these early discussions sets the stage for your baby's first real words.
What Does 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.
For now, breast milk or formula will fully satisfy your baby. Some doctors suggest introducing rice cereal or another single-grain cereal between 4 and 6 months. Talk to your doctor before starting solid foods.
Why Is Touch Important?
Babies learn about the world through touch. When you cuddle or kiss your baby, your baby learns that he or she is safe, secure, and loved. When your baby feels a cool breeze on the cheek, he or she learns about the environment.
The opportunities for exercising your baby's sense of touch at this age are endless, even during the course of a regular day. Your baby will enjoy toys and books with different textures. See if your baby likes to touch the silky trim of the baby blanket, or feel the texture of a carpet. Let him or her safely explore surroundings.
Don't forget how important the feel of a gentle caress or a tender kiss is, and hold your baby when you are able.
If You're Worried
In the next few months, your baby should be responding to more and more sights and sounds. Talk to your doctor if your baby doesn't seem to:
recognize you by sight
be interested in looking at any new books, toys, or pictures
have good control of eye motion, or one or both eyes turn in or out consistently
Also speak to your doctor if your baby's eyes seem very sensitive to light or tear up often. An eye exam may be necessary if you have a family history of eye diseases or vision problems.
You'll also want to discuss with your doctor any concerns you have about your baby's hearing. Warning signs of hearing problems to look for include:
no response to sound (for example, doesn't turn in direction of loud noise)
response to only some sounds, not all (some children can hear certain pitches, some hear in only one ear)
does not smile or coo
When caught early, many vision and hearing problems can be treated successfully, so be sure to report any concerns you have to your doctor.