700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

Babies and Senses: Your Questions Answered

Sep 14, 2020
infant baby being cradled

In honor of her appearance on the Netflix show “Babies,” we collected questions from our community for Dr. Nathalie Maitre, neonatologist and Principal Investigator of Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Baby Brain Optimization Project (BBOP).

How Many Babies a Year Are Born With Cataracts?

There are no specific statistics, but the number of babies born with cataracts are extremely low. Doctors will examine a baby’s vision at well baby check-ups and will also discuss any concerns with parents.

My 4-Month-Old Daughter’s Eyes Are Slightly off Track. Does This Correct? 

Vision development varies from child to child. Premature infants are at high risk for vision issues. We have a Helping Hand that details infant visual development in the first year. If you are concerned about your baby’s eyes or vision, we recommend that you reach out to your pediatrician or ask at your child’s next scheduled appointment.

What Causes Babies to Stare at Certain People and Things?

Babies stare at certain people or objects for several reasons, partially because their brains are learning how to interpret the things that they are seeing in their environment and in turn, learning about the world around them. They may stare at new objects that are interesting to look at, or they may stare at your face because you’re familiar to them and they think you’re pretty! (Your face is one of their favorite things to look at!) At around two months of age, your baby should be following objects and should start reaching for their favorite toys. Your baby recognizes your face and remembers what he or she sees. You can help your baby’s vision by using a mobile or holding up bright or high contrast objects, so they’ll want to reach out for them. Learn more about visual development from this video on the BBOP Research Facebook page.

If a Baby Is Born Blind, Are Its Other Senses Stronger or Develop Faster?

Though we don’t know that blindness causes a baby to develop their other senses faster, studies have shown that people who experience congenital blindness tend to pay more attention to auditory and tactile cues. Neuroplasticity allows the brain to adapt to an individual’s unique circumstances. With the absence of vision, the brain "reassigns" the space typically used for visual stimulation and uses it for other things, which might lead to faster processing of other sensory stimulation once the child is older.

How Do You Get the Smell of Mom Used in the Intervention You Designed?

After enrollment in the MIND (Multisensory Interventions for Infants at Risk for Neurodevelopmental Disorders) Study, the patient is assigned to an intervention group. The multisensory intervention includes a recording of mom’s voice, light containment and vestibular movement from kangaroo care, and the scent of mom. Before the intervention period, the mother will be given a clean, cotton t-shirt to wear for at least an hour during the day and will place it in a sealed bag once it has been worn. The therapist then collects the shirt, quickly cuts it into small rectangles, and places all of the cloths into the same sealed bag, reserving one in a smaller sealed bag for interventions that will be replaced regularly. During the intervention, the therapist will wear a specific shirt just to be used with that baby and the rectangle of cloth with mom’s scent will be placed on the therapists’ chest, on top of the therapist’s shirt, where the baby will lay their head during the intervention.

When Does a Baby’s Eyesight Start to Become Clear?

A baby’s eyesight develops significantly in the first six months of life. Around one week after birth the baby can see colors and can see about 8-10 inches away. At six weeks of age baby can see about 12 inches away. When a baby reaches four months, however, their vision is much clearer! 

Does the Way a Baby’s Taste Preference Develops Have Anything to Do With the Mother’s Diet During Pregnancy?

Yes! A baby’s taste preference can be affected by mother’s diet during pregnancy! A study featured on season 2, episode 3 of “Babies” on Netflix tested this phenomenon. They found that while weaning, babies of mothers who drank carrot juice during the last trimester of their pregnancy enjoyed the flavor of carrots more than those whose mother drank water. The flavor of the food that mothers eat during pregnancy impacts the amniotic fluid that the fetus swallows, affecting their taste preferences once they begin to eat solid foods. It is important to eat a well-balanced and healthy diet during pregnancy to help your baby grow!  

Can Babies in the Womb Really Hear Noises Outside?

Yes! Around 9 weeks of pregnancy, the indentations where your baby’s ears will grow start to develop. At 18 weeks, your baby will begin to hear noise in the womb. By week 25 or 26, your baby will begin to respond to outside voices and sounds. Mom’s voice is the most familiar to baby, and in the third trimester, baby will begin to respond to Mom’s voice specifically. We encourage Moms to talk or sing to their baby, even while they are still nestled in the womb.

What Are Things I Can Do to Stimulate My Baby’s Senses?

Nationwide Children’s Hospital has a resource for how to safely develop your baby’s senses if your child is preterm. 

  1. Taste: As a newborn, breastmilk or formula is the primary way to stimulate your baby’s sense of taste. At around six months of age, your baby can start to explore solid foods, like fruits, soft veggies, and puffs. At one year, your baby can try a variety of fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meats. Make sure to limit sweets, junk food, or sweetened drinks.Please refer to your pediatrician for specifics about your baby’s diet and nutrition.
  2. Oral Stimulation: When your child is a newborn, providing them opportunities for breastfeeding, nuzzling at the breast, or dips of breastmilk or formula on a pacifier or nipple are all wonderful ways to provide oral stimulation. We have a resource detailing how to safely provide oral stimulation for an infant born preterm.
  3. Touch: Holding your baby and skin-to-skin contact (kangaroo care) helps them to grow!  Research shows that positive touch is an important cornerstone of sensory development.
  4. Auditory:Talk to your baby about what you see and hear in your environment! Repeat words and phrases when referring to everyday activities or objects. Singing to your baby is also an excellent way to provide speech and language exposure, and it’s also fun for both of you!Learn more about early auditory development here.
  5. Proprioception/Vestibular:Tummy Time helps babies to practice holding their head up, look to their sides, and support their weight with their arms. As a caregiver, you can get down on the floor with your child and engage with them to make tummy time a little more fun.When your child is a little older, you can pick songs to sing and dance to that have gestures (like the “Hokey Pokey”) to improve motor skills – or, you can gently help them to do the motions if they’re little! BBOP physical therapist Lindsay details four ways to support motor development on our 700 Children’s blog.
  6. Vision:
    • 0-1 month: Place your baby in different positions in the crib to be exposed to new sights. 
    • 2-3 months:  Use a mobile so that your baby can watch it! Play with brightly colored toys
    • 4-6 months: Play peek-a-boo and use mirrors to help with vision
    • 7-12 months: Encourage playing with toys and talk to them as you play

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Featured Expert

Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Nathalie Maitre, MD, PhD

Nathalie Maitre, MD, PhD, is a neonatologist and physician-scientist with a long-standing commitment to neurodevelopmental follow-up with passion for research impacting the long-term outcomes of NICU graduates. She is the director of the NICU Follow-up Program and NICU Music Therapy Program at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

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Pediatric News You Can Use From America’s Largest Pediatric Hospital and Research Center

700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.