coming to their senses
New research reveals what your baby sees, hears and feels.
Moments before his wife was to give birth, basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson called a time-out.
“Hold it,” he said. “We’ve got to start the music.”
His sister-in-law popped in the preselected Luther Vandross tape. “OK, honey, push him out!”
Johnson wanted Vandross’ smooth vocals to be the first thing his newborn son heard. Just seconds old, Earvin Johnson III might not know the difference between Vandross and Wagner, but research shows that he, like most babies, will prefer his music in tune.
Among researchers, it’s common knowledge that infants recognize their own mothers’ speech patterns at birth. In fact, some research even suggests that the fetus can hear sound in the fifth month of pregnancy. Such finely tuned hearing is only one new research revelation of the heightened senses in newborns.
Not only do babies prefer harmonic melodies, found Harvard University child psychologists Jerome Kagan, Ph.D., and Marcel Zenter, Ph.D., but babies also fuss and cry when listening to out-of-tune music.
“A baby’s ears are remarkably sensitive to different sound qualities and intonation patterns,” says Diane Phillips, M.S., C.C.C.A., a clinical audiologist at Hermann Hospital in Houston.
Newborns seem to detect the difference between low- and high-pitched sounds—a male and female voice, for example. They also show preferences for certain patterns and pitches, Phillips says. This may be one reason why they respond to the singsong cadence most adults use when speaking to infants.
“Parents may feel silly talking to their newborns,” says Diane Henderson, M.D., a developmental pediatrician in Los Angeles, “but by doing so they help to develop important language skills.”
Even at birth, touch is probably the most developed of all the senses, says Tiffany Field, Ph.D., director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School. Even something as simple as stimulating the inside of a baby’s mouth with a pacifier encourages growth, she adds.
Studies conducted by Field show that premature babies who are massaged regularly continue to gain weight at a greater rate than babies who are not massaged.
A relaxing touch allows the body to work more efficiently, says Field. She encourages parents to massage their infants using slow, firm, relaxing strokes. Henderson says that touching your baby’s hands can help prepare for eventual hand-eye coordination.