Understanding the Sensory World of the Newborn

understanding-the-sensory-world-of-the-newborn

Wouldn’t caring for your baby be so much easier if you understood how your tiny bundle experiences the world? Well, by looking at a baby’s sensory world, we can much better understand and cater for our young baby’s sensory needs. It makes sense that caring for your baby with concern about how he experiences the world will help him both be content and develop optimally.

In the same way that your baby is dependent on you for milk (nutrition) and love (nurturing), he needs you to help him cope with and make sense of the sensory environment.

In the early days most babies have some difficulty dealing with all the new sights, sounds, smells and feels of the world outside the womb. Many babies become over stimulated with just an average day’s stimulation, resulting in prolonged crying (or colic). Your baby needs you to watch for signs of overstimulation and fussing and to calm his environment if need be.

Responding appropriately when your baby is over stimulated and fussing will save you both distress and feelings of desperation that every mother when her baby cries for an extended period.

How to respond:

  • Hold your baby quietly and firmly
  • Calm his environment to ensure he does not become further over stimulated
  • Tuck his arms in or swaddle him in a blanket
  • Play some calming music for your baby
  • Put him in a baby sling close to you
  • Give him something to suck such as a pacifier or his hands to help him calm

The early days of fussing soon pass and your baby soon becomes more alert and is awake for longer periods but don’t be fooled, babies need an inordinate amount of sleep. The young baby is prone to overstimulation after just an hour and a half of awake time. After six months of age, your baby will manage to happily interact for two and a half to three hours as he approaches his first birthday.

Your baby’s growing brain needs stimulation to develop optimally and you can stimulate him via the sense of sight, sound, touch, movement and taste. Give your baby opportunities to explore his world and have a variety of bought and home made toys available for interactions. Talk to your baby lots and use massage to help your baby learn through his sense of touch. Just remember that in the case of stimulation more is not always better. Time stimulation for when your baby can most benefit from the interaction, not when he is tired and irritable.

By understanding your baby’s sensory world, you will nurture a baby who is more content but who also learns optimally from his world.

Fussing signals

  • Irritability
  • Looking away from you
  • Squirming
  • Arching his back or neck
  • Frantic movements
  • Frowning
  • Hiccups and colour changes around the mouth may be signs of distress
  • Gagging
  • Crying

By Sr Ann Richardson

Sr Ann Richardson is the author of Toddler Sense and also co-authored Baby Sense and Sleep Sense. She is a qualified nurse and midwife and has worked in the midwifery and paediatric fields for 30 years. For more information from Sr Ann Richardson go to www.toddlersense.com or email her at info@toddlersense.co.za