The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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They can see what they need to see: you.
Scientists have determined that newborns can focus their eyes on objects that are only about 18 inches or less away. Conveniently, that works out to roughly the length from the crook of your arm to your face, a baby’s favorite object to study.
Faces, especially familiar ones, fascinate infants for the first several weeks as they fine-tune their vision. They are able to recognize caregivers by face (if close enough) and voice. Tests have shown that even babies a few weeks old will turn their heads toward a parent instead of a stranger.
Studies have shown that while they are able to see some colors, newborns respond best to black and white (after about four months, bright colors) and that visual stimulation is vital as the eye-brain connection improves. Mobiles, toys and even ceiling fans will keep a newborn fascinated as he exercises his eyes and forms needed connections in the brain.
They will eat. And eat. And eat.
“A newborn’s stomach is about the size of a walnut,” says Carol Huotari, manager of the Center for Breastfeeding Information at La Leche League International. This is partly why newborns nurse around the clock. Another factor in the nearly constant feeding pattern of a newborn is that breast milk is easily digested; it is emptied from an infant’s stomach quickly, often in less than 30 minutes.
Babies who formula-feed, on the other hand, may have slower emptying of their stomachs than breastfed babies. Still, they need to, and should, eat often. “In general, newborn babies will eat every two to four hours during the first weeks of life,” says pediatrics professor Engle. “We recommend feeding on demand rather than a schedule and eating until apparently full.”
Demand equals crying, and by responding quickly, you can avoid having the baby work himself into a full-blown fuss, which can make feeding difficult. And how can you tell if he’s full? Most infants will stop sucking or turn away from the nipple or bottle. Another way to tell if your baby is getting enough to eat is to keep track of dirty diapers. Breastfed infants, says pediatrician Wood, may have as many as eight to 10 stools a day (formula-fed babies may have fewer).
They need your touch.
Babies thrive on touch, so hold yours as often as you can. “Touch and all kinds of interaction — [infants] need all the stimulation that comes naturally to parents,” says Wood. In addition to babies’ other senses, touch may be particularly critical, as evidenced by the fact that it is present at birth.
“We believe the sequence [in which newborns develop their senses] is touch and sense of placement, then taste, smell, hearing and vision,” says Ann Critz, M.D., an associate professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. To get in as much touch time as possible, carry your baby with you in a sling or front carrier as you do chores, take naps together, and get in some extra strokes during feedings.