Many new parents will be amazed at how quickly their baby develops from a dependent tiny newborn to an inquisitive and responsive little human. You might be curious about your new baby’s perceptual development – what they can experience through their senses, and whether these senses are as fully developed as an adult’s.
Perceptual development begins before birth and your little one’s senses develop rapidly in order for them to become fully aware of their surroundings. It is a natural process that has little to do with your input as parents. Of all the senses, touch is one that your baby will rely on the most in the first few months. It is directly linked to his emotional well-being, because he uses touch to bond with you.
Early perceptual development of touch and pain
Touch is the first to develop among the five senses – at around the eighth week of your pregnancy. As the pregnancy progresses, your little one will first discover their nose and cheeks before sensitivity spreads down towards the 20th week. This is usually when you will notice your baby sucking its thumb.
The foetus can feel and will respond to you touching your belly, as you put pressure on the side of your womb. This early development of touch also means that a foetus is susceptible to pain. By the 32nd week, every part of your baby’s body is sensitive to temperature, pressure and pain, except for the back and top of the head – a natural mechanism that is useful during labour when the baby comes out through the birth canal.
Perceptual development of touch and pain: What your baby experiences
Because it’s the first sense to develop, touch (and pain) is also the most advanced sense. Touch is not exactly a single sense. It is made up of several receptors which register different sensations of hot, cold, pleasure, pressure and pain, and your little one will immediately be able to distinguish between them.
Not surprisingly, at this stage, your baby’s mouth is particularly sensitive to touch, as you will notice. This explains why everything goes straight to the mouth – not just when they are teething. This is a way for your little one to explore the world, and amazingly, one-month old babies are able to form a basic mental image of the object they’ve just been sucking on.
Your little one can be sensitive to pain, but skin-to-skin contact offers a comforting, familiar and soothing environment. The thousands of nerve receptors provide stimuluation to the brain, and even from birth, it can set off triggers in the brain that will associate physical contact with safety.
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