The Development of Sensory Skills in Infants
Your baby isn’t born with the same sensory skills that you have. Even though her sensory organs developed in-utero, it takes time and practice for these to work with any sophistication. As she grows from a newborn to a 1-year-old toddler, your baby will start coordinating more complex sensory information. Doing so allows her to communicate with and explore the world around her. Although sensory milestones give you an idea of what your infant should be doing at a certain age, each baby develops at her own pace. Consult with your doctor if you're concerned about any missed milestones.
Sense of Sight
Even though your baby can see at birth, his vision isn’t what you might consider normal. Your newborn has the ability to see shapes and your face when it’s in close range, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Healthy Children website. At this point your baby can only see 8 to 10 inches away. It’s normal to see your newborn’s eyes wander or notice a lack of focus, notes the American Optometric Association 2. This is due to a lack of coordination. As he reaches 3-months, he’ll start to track objects that move with his eyes. By 5 months, his color vision is better developed and his eyes focus well enough to see in three dimensions. This means that he has the depth perception to reach and grab at his toys or other objects. Even though vision problems are rare in infants, consult your doctor is you notice excessive tearing, red or crusty eyelids, extreme light sensitivity, a white pupil or constant eye movement.
Hearing From the Start
Unlike the sense of sight, your baby’s hearing is on-point and in-place at birth. Your newborn can hear what you say but doesn’t yet have the cognitive development to fully respond to it. During the first few months, she responds most often to sounds she knows. This includes your voice or any that of any other caregiver she spends time with. By 4 months, she consciously turns her head toward a sound she knows, and by 8 months, she babbles in response to words. If your baby doesn't startle in response to loud noises, doesn't turn toward sounds after 6 months or seems to hear only certain sounds, consider having a professional check her hearing.
Scents and Tastes
Your baby’s senses of smell and taste are developed enough for him to know what he likes eating and what he doesn’t. If it seems like he prefers something sweet, he probably does, notes professor of child development Alice Sterling Honig on Scholastic’s website. This is because babies have more sweet taste buds than adults. When your baby smells an unpleasant or pungent odor or tastes something unfamiliar, he may turn his head away or make a strained face.
Touch and Textures
Sensitivity to touch is common in infants. Your baby responds to your touch along with the feel of certain surfaces from the beginning. Help her develop this sense and explore different textures by giving her soft blankets, bumpy wash cloths, smooth blocks and different surfaces to play with and explore. Avoid items with sharp corners or small items she can put in her mouth as her coordination grows.
Infant sensory development doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Even though there are predictable stages of development, each sense isn’t exclusive of one another. For example, as your baby’s motor skills develop, his ability to see in different directions grows, notes the national early development organization Zero to Three.
Your baby’s environment also influences sensory development. Providing your baby with plenty of stimuli boosts her sensory development by creating new experiences to explore and discover.
- HealthyChildren.org: Baby's Vision Development
- American Optometric Association: Infant Vision: Birth to 24 Months of Age
- Baby Center: Developmental Milestones -- Hearing
- Scholastic: Infants and Toddlers: How Children Develop Sensory Awareness
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Hearing Loss in Children
- Zero to Three: Babies and Their Senses
- Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images