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About babies - their senses

baby; babies; move; see; hear; feel; taste; smell; reflex; startle; grasp; suck; tongue; smile;

Newborn babies may seem very helpless and vulnerable, and in many ways they are, but they can see, hear, taste, smell and feel. They can move their arms and legs (though they cannot control the movements) and they can suck! They communicate their feelings and needs (such as their need for comfort and feeds) by crying.



  • Your baby has been hearing since well before birth. He is familiar with your voice and the sounds of your household.
  • You may notice that he tends to calm down if you make soft noises, and that he startles if there is a sudden loud noise.
  • Babies seem to like high voices and animated faces (this might be why people often talk to babies in a higher voice).
  • Your baby can hear voices, but he cannot understand any words yet. By talking to your baby from the time that he is born, you can help him start to understand that sounds make words and have meaning.
  • Listen to your baby's noises and sounds and copy them. When you copy your baby it is like saying "I can hear you" and this is the start of teaching your baby to talk.
  • For more information, have a look at the topics Learning to talk and Hearing and hearing loss.
  • When a baby is born in Australia he or she will have a hearing test soon after birth. There is more about how this is done in South Australia in the topic Your baby's newborn hearing screening.


Your baby can see quite well at birth, especially things that are close.

  • She will be able to see your face and will soon learn to recognise you.
  • She will be able see to objects that are further away, but they will be blurry. Her distance vision will develop over the next few months.
  • Babies can see the different colours, but as they do not understand colours they may like simple shapes, each in one colour.

Crossed eyes

  • In the first few weeks, a baby's eyes often cross, or wander in different directions some of the time.
  • By the age of 3 months the eyes should be lined up so that they both look at the same object.
  • If a young baby's eyes are turned in or out most of the time, or if a baby over 3 months old has turned eyes, the baby needs to have his eyes checked.
  • Some babies and young children have turned eyes some of the time (more often when they are tired or unwell). These babies should also have their eyes checked.

Eye colour

  • Babies' eyes may change colour and you may not know what colour their eyes will be for several months.

See the topics Your baby's eyes and Turned eyes (squint) for more information.

Smell and taste

  • Babies are born with senses of smell and taste. They are said to be able to recognise the smell and taste of their mother's milk, and they may refuse to drink if the milk tastes different.
  • Babies can tell different tastes such as salty, sweet, sour and bitter.
  • They certainly react to unpleasant tastes such as some medicines.
  • They do not need salt or sugar on their foods when they start eating solids and they learn to like the tastes they are given.


  • Babies are sensitive to touch from the time they are born and they can feel pain.
  • Gentle, caring touch is very important so babies feel loved and cared for. For some ideas, have a look at the topic Baby massage.
  • Nappy rash is very painful for babies, and they will be quite unsettled.


  • Most of a baby's movements are random and the baby is not able to control them at first.
  • There are several reflexes, such as the startle reflex (the baby's arms stretch out and her back arches and her head goes back), and the grasp reflex (she will grip something that is put onto the palm of her hand – such as your finger). These reflexes will decrease over the next few months as your baby gets more conscious control of her movements.
  • When something touches his face he will turn towards it (the rooting reflex) and he will suck on it. Sucking is a reflex too; your baby will suck on things that are put into his mouth. Some babies will even be sucking their thumbs when they are newborns. Babies need to suck so that they can survive.
  • Babies also have a 'tongue thrust' reflex. When something is placed into their mouth, they will, in the early months, tend to push it out using their tongue. This often happens when they are started on solids. It does not mean that they do not like the taste of the food; it is because they need to learn how to control their tongue.
  • Most babies will start to smile by the time that they are around 6 weeks old, and they will be able to move their head a little.

Resources in South Australia

Parent Helpline  1300 364 100

Child and Family Health Centres 1300 733 606
Call 9am to 4.30pm to make an appointment

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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