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  Home  > The First Year  > Myth: The Newborn's Senses and Feelings Are not Well Developed

Myth: The Newborn's Senses and Feelings Are not Well Developed

Fact: Research validates what mothers have always known - that newborns have sensation, feelings, and minds, and that the treatment they receive will impact their wellbeing for the rest of their lives.

A substantial body of evidence proves conclusively that newborns are not unresponsive, unfeeling, or unaware of their surroundings. Unless unconscious or numbed from drugs given to the mother, babies are born in a heightened state of awareness, emerging from their mother's body aware of everything around them and primed for survival. The newborn is biologically geared to need physical and emotional contact with his mother, and has amazing abilities right after birth to interest her in taking care of him.

The newborn's sensory and mental systems are intact and fully functioning. Although each sense is developed to a different degree, he can see, feel, taste, touch, and hear. Acutely aware of his surroundings and capable of a surprising range of intentional behaviors, he is an active learner and communicator, biologically primed to engage with his caregivers. The "spacey" looking eyes often seen in newborns are usually the result of drugs from the mother's bloodstream. If not drugged or given eye drops, the newborn will look at those present and respond to voices. My daughter, Siena, emerged from the water pool she was birthed into, to look me in the eye very directly and intently. She then moved her gaze to her father, and then the midwife. Clearly, she was very alert and present. This was a wonderful, memorable time of real contact with the spirit of this being

A newborn infant is a highly impressionable being. Newly-emerged from the familiar womb environment, with its muted sound, light, and the comforting rhythm of mother's heartbeat, the experience of empty space is a new, unknown experience. If he has been exposed to stress or pain, it is even more important that he be held, cuddled, and stroked. Massage and music will help tremendously.

If he is ill, almost any medical treatment can be done while baby the is being held close to the mother's body instead of being separated from her.

While we usually consider gestation as only a nine-month period, the newborn retains the vulnerability and rapid growth pace he experienced in the womb. The analogies between the nine months inside and first months outside are such that some experts consider full gestation to be eighteen months long. They call the two phases utero-gestation and extero-gestation. The newborn is still in a womb, but now "a womb with a view" as Ashley Montagu put it.

For the majority of newborns there is nothing better than to be close to his mother, the body he is so familiar with, in almost constant physical contact. Simply being held close in mother's arms, against her warm body, surrounded with love and protection, the baby very gradually adapts to the changes in his environment.

Holding this baby in our arms, we hold a whole world of possibilities, a microcosm of the future. Unlike us, older and captives of time, she is ready and new. Let us infuse her with our hope and our affection at the start of her great adventure in life. "O Nobly Born!" This is how every new baby should be welcomed. It will be a deep reminder for the rest of her life that she is a beautiful and noble being. - Laura Huxley


Suzanne Arms, Immaculate Deception II: Myth, Magic and Birth
Laura Huxley and Piero Ferrucci, The Child of Your Dreams
Thomas R. Verny MD, Preparenting: Nurturing Your Baby from Conception

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