Women's Healthcare Topics

How Infants Learn

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Foster Learning by Stimulating your Baby's Senses

Babies are amazing creatures. From the moment that they are born, newborns are learning about the world around them by using their senses – hearing, eyesight, touch, and smell. Babies can see and hear what's happening in their environment, and they learn how to communicate their needs by crying. In addition, newborn babies are born with the ability to distinguish mom's voice apart from other female voices.

As a parent, you are crucial to your baby's learning. Your baby's first experiences affect his or her growth and development. You can encourage learning by spending a lot of time talking and interacting with your baby. When you talk and smile at your baby, he or she learns that your face and voice are sources of calm and comfort. Your infant will quickly understand that you provide nourishment, warmth, and love.

You can foster learning by stimulating your baby's senses with lots of smiles, soothing sounds, and tender caresses. Try the following methods to help your baby learn. (They'll also strengthen your bond with your new child.)

Babies Love Faces!

Babies love staring at faces, especially their mother's. Research has shown that infants are hardwired to recognize faces. This allows them to bond with you from an early stage. Faces also come with many characteristics that fascinate babies - motion, newness, contrast and shadows, response, and sound.

When your baby isn't hungry or too tired, position him or her to look directly at your face. Then, make faces and funny expressions at your baby. You might want to smile or stick-out your tongue. Don't be shocked when your baby tries to imitate your facial expressions. Infants love to play "copycat" with their parents.

Be careful not to overdo it. If you notice that your baby is looking away and no longer interested, stop. This is a sign that your baby has had enough, and it's time for naptime. When your baby doesn't want to play anymore, he or she will alert you. Your infant will avoid eye contact, become sleepy and fussy, cough or spits up, or rub his or her eyes.

Just like every person, each baby has his or her own personality. Some babies love more activity and they crave more attention, while others require less. Similarly, some infants are louder when they're fussy, and others are quieter in tone.

Talk and Read to your Baby

Did you know that your baby could hear your voice while in the womb? In fact, it's the mother's voice that a newborn instantly recognizes after birth. One of the first things your baby learns is how to distinguish sounds – such as understanding the difference between your voice and your partner's voice.

You can nurture your baby's emotional development, while helping develop his or her language skills by talking to your baby. Even though your baby can't talk yet, he or she is listening to the words you say and learning how sentences are put together. Studies have indicated that children whose parents spoke to them constantly when they were infants had higher IQs and richer vocabularies than other children.

You don't have to blabber nonstop, but talk to your infant whenever you are near. Talk about what you're doing, ask your baby questions, or read your baby a picture book. Just hearing you speak helps build your baby's vocabulary.

An important note – It's hard not to coo and use "baby talk" with infants, but resist the urge. When you speak correctly and with good grammar, your baby will learn to speak properly.

From the moment that they are born, babies are learning.

Use Simple, Age-Appropriate Toys

In the first few weeks of your baby's life, you should introduce him or her to simple, age-appropriate toys to stimulate the senses – primarily sight, hearing, and touch. Consider buying your baby fun rattles, textured toys, musical toys (like mobiles), and crib mirrors. You can stimulate your baby's vision and eyesight, which is developing, by using toys with contrasting colors and patterns, curves, and symmetry. Once your baby's vision is developed, he or she will be more interactive with his or her environment.

Babies learn by playing. You may not think that kicking at the mobile or chewing on a block is helping your child learn anything, but you couldn't be more wrong. As your baby plays, his or her brain organizes the information and makes sense of it.

Allow Babies to Spend Time with Others

You can help develop your baby's social skills by allowing him or her to spend time with friends and extended family members. When you're around other people, allow them to hold and talk to your infant. This is how your baby learns to relate to others. Your child will learn that other people are friendly and caring and to not be afraid.

If you can't be with your baby when he or she meets new people, make sure that a trusted caregiver is around.


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