The first three years of your baby’s life are critical for him to develop, both physically and mentally. To optimise his brain’s development, he will need to be constantly stimulated. In a newborn, about 1.8 million synaptic connections are developing per second and whether these connections survive or wither away depends on the nature of stimulation.
The power of touch helps strengthen the bonds between parents and their children. It also improves parental satisfaction.
The eyes have it – sight is one of the most important senses for his cognitive development.
Familiar smells keep baby calm and is closely linked to memories and emotions.
Hearing is vital for speech and language development.
The stimulation of the baby’s brain happens through his senses, namely his sense of touch, smell, vision, hearing, and taste. Since the different areas of the brain correspond to different senses, whenever you stimulate his senses you are also stimulating his brain.
Seeing is Believing
When trying to engage with your baby, eye contact is very important. Studies have shown that babies naturally gravitate to look at a face that is looking at them, if you look at him and sustain your gaze,he will look back at you for a longer time (compared to if you are looking away).
Looking at him with an animated or exaggerated expression (e.g. smiling, making faces, etc.) helps to capture his attention for a longer time.
The Power of Scents
Your baby can smell you. Newborns have a strong sense of smell and instinctively know the scent of breast milk. That is why your baby will turn his head to mummy when he is hungry.
Newborns are just like adults – they will turn toward nice smells and will shy away from disagreeable smells. Your baby will be soothed by smells that are familiar, such as a favourite blanket or pillow. He may even hang on to it until he is much older, as the smell helps to relieve any stress he feels.
A study showed that babies exposed to familiar smells would cry less after a painful heel-stick procedure, compared to babies who were exposed to unfamiliar smells or placed in odourless areas. Crying was also reduced when any of these babies was exposed to a familiar smell.
Importance of Touch
Studies have shown how children who receive a lot of care and attention, in the form of physical contact with their parents turn out to be more resilient to pressure, frustration, and stress.
There is also a positive impact on their cognitive functions when they grow up, e.g. they tend to be more sociable and turn out to be more skilled individuals.
Newborn babies who receive a lot of parental touch in their care also handle pain better, e.g. they cry less or for shorter periods.
Research shows that babies generally preferred listening to human voices, especially mummy’s voice. Newborns can usually recognise mummy’s voice and will connect her voice with her face. Preterm infants in hospital will benefit from more exposure to their parents, and even a simple action such as talking, reading, or singing them a lullaby will help their growth and development.
Another study using a computed tomography (CT) scan showed that there was brain activity in the linguistic processing area of the brain; this was markedly higher when they heard their mummy’s voice, as opposed to a stranger’s voice, or even lower when listening to music. So what’s the verdict? Don’t be shy to talk, read, or sing to baby! It doesn’t matter that he may not understand what you are saying, what is important is that he hears your voice.
Babies love exploring the world with every sense at their disposal, so it should come as no surprise when they put things in their mouth! On your part, take extra care to ensure that his toys are clean and safe for baby tasting, i.e. it contains no small parts that may be swallowed or toxic substances such as lead-based paint. When it comes to complementary foods, take the necessary precautions to ensure that the taste and texture are suitable for his age. Be vigilant and never give him foods that can cause choking such as whole sausages, meat/cheese chunks, grapes, large chunks of raw veggies or fruits, nuts, popcorn, hard candy, peanut butter, marshmallows, or chewing gum. At the same time, babies should be exposed to different textures, not only blended or mashed food.
How Can You Engage Baby’s Senses?
The perfect chance for your baby to experience a full sensory experience is during bath time and when you are giving him a massage:
- Vision – mummy’s full attention is on baby and this gives the both of you plenty of opportunity for eye contact.
- Smell – while there may be many fragranced products on the shelves, babies are attracted to the smells of their mother the most so get close when giving your baby a bath or massage
- Touch – as mummy gives him a bath/massage, the skin to skin contact helps soothe and comfort him.
- Hearing – talk, read or sing to baby as often as you can. Don’t worry, he won’t get bored and will probably keep asking for more!
- Taste – be adventurous and talk to your baby about taste. For instance, when you go grocery shopping, you can describe the flavours, colour, texture, or taste of the foods that are on sale. Do the same once you start him on complementary foods.
Keep in mind that your baby experiences the world differently from you, so what you may find boring may be something that interests him and vice-versa. For instance, you can use bold and colourful designs for his nursery/ play-area. This helps him identify objects by sight as his eyesight develops. You can also play simple games with him such as doing high-fives or simple clapping songs or games. This helps develop his hand-eye coordination and depth perception.
An educational contribution by Malaysian Paediatric Association.