Newborn babies often bring with them a few surprises that can catch unsuspecting parents off guard. For example, did you know that some babies are born with a thin layer of downy hair over all of their skin? This is called lanugo, and its purpose is simply to protect the skin. Lanugo is much more common in preterm babies, as many babies shed it in utero in the seventh or eighth month of gestation. It will eventually be shed, and there is nothing that parents need to do about it.
Let’s take a look at some other interesting facts about newborn babies.
Newborn babies are very likely to be cross-eyed or have their eyes looking in two different directions. This may alarm new parents, but it is perfectly normal and expected. A child’s vision is one of the last senses to fully develop.
At birth, babies are very near-sighted. At best, they can see only 10 to 12 inches from their face. The tiny muscles around the eyes are simply not very coordinated yet, so the baby cannot control his eye movements.
By providing your baby with interesting things to look at, you are helping him develop his vision. Babies love to look at faces — particularly the faces of Mom, Dad, and other children — more than anything else. This is very convenient because whenever you hold, feed, or change a newborn, your face is approximately 10 to 12 inches from his.
During face-to-face contact with your newborn, talk to him. Engage him from both sides so his tiny eye muscles develop symmetrically. This happens organically with breastfeeding, but it’s helpful for his visual development if you switch sides halfway through bottle feeding as well.
It is also helpful to think about his world and make sure that the things he looks at every day will hold his interest. As his vision becomes more acute, which happens naturally with visual stimulation, his eye movements will become more coordinated. This usually occurs by one month of age. His vision will continue to refine until after his fourth birthday.
Your child’s sense of balance begins to establish as soon as he is born. It’s funny to imagine that a newborn baby has any sense of balance, but as soon as your baby is held in different positions and experiences the sense of gravity on his body, he begins to orient himself and process balance. This is an important skill to learn when you consider that he will be toddling around on his own two feet in 12 months or less.
Did you know that the balance centers are housed in the inner ear? This is convenient because you can help your baby develop a sense of balance simply by talking to him, singing to him, playing music, or giving him other auditory stimulation.
Another thing that helps establish a child’s sense of balance is simple movement and positioning. Holding your baby in a vertical carrier or sling is great for his sense of balance because it forces him to perceive the world from a vertical position. Other sensations, such as vibration and swinging, help develop his sense of balance, too.
You can do some actual balance activities with your baby as soon as he can hold his head up. Using a soft playground ball or a small beach ball, place your child on the ball (supported by your body as you kneel behind him) and bounce him slightly. Roll him left, right, forward, and back, challenging him to balance and allowing him to feel the gravitational pull on his body.
You can also place him on his belly or back and roll him back and forth on the ball. See if he puts his hands out toward the floor as he rolls forward. This shows that he is processing the movement and anticipating the floor coming near him.
As your newborn moves, wiggles, kicks, and appears to be reaching, you may wonder what he is doing and what he is reaching for. The truth is, he doesn’t know either. Almost every movement he makes as a newborn is dictated by reflexes that are triggered by other things.
When he feels sensation in his cheek, for example, he will turn his head in that direction and open his mouth. This is to help with breastfeeding and prepare him to latch on.
When he turns his head to the left, his left arm extends long, his right arm bends at the elbow, and his legs mirror this movement in a sort of fencing pose. This is called the asymmetrical tonic neck reflex (ATNR), and it may help your baby protect his face.
When he hears a loud noise or feels a sudden touch to his body, you will see the startle reflex in which all four limbs extend and then curl back in. This could be a response to internal stimuli that you can’t even see, such as a little belly gurgle. Watching your child experience the startle reflex can be alarming, but these random movements are completely normal.
There is absolutely nothing you need to do about newborn reflexes. These movements show that your baby’s neurological system is intact and functioning appropriately.
A lot of reflexes serve a purpose for your baby, such as to aid in feeding or to help keep him calm. For example, when your baby feels pressure in the palm of his hand, he will close his fingers around it and grasp. This act is calming for him. When he feels pressure on his tongue, he will close his lips and suck. This helps him eat, and sucking is also calming for him.
Within a few weeks or months, newborn reflexes integrate and give way to more purposeful movement. For example, the grasp reflex will go away and your baby will purposefully reach for a toy and be able to release it when he wants to.
Newborn babies may seem like little mysteries, but so many of their characteristics are in place to allow for healthy development. With a little bit of know-how and support from you, your baby will have a firm foundation for a lifetime.
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Aimee Ketchum writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.