The five senses

PDF download is not available for Arabic and Urdu languages at this time. Please use the browser print function instead

Learn all about your newborn baby's eyesight, hearing, and senses of taste, touch and smell.

Key points

  • Although their vision is blurry at first, newborns can focus on and identify a parent's face.
  • Newborn babies recognize parents' voices early on.
  • Newborn babies love to be held close, comforted, cuddled, stroked and rocked.
  • Babies have a well-developed sense of taste, hearing and smell at birth.

The terms 'mother' and 'breast' are used throughout our documents; we recognize and respect that individuals and families may use other preferred terminology.

Newborn babies often have very keen senses. Even before birth, a fetus will respond to sounds. Newborns can tell the difference between their mother's face and someone else, and can even distinguish the smell of their mother from other women.


Newborn babies seem to love human faces. Although their vision is quite blurry at first, they can see well enough to focus on their mother’s face when being held to the breast. Within the first few hours after birth, newborn babies can tell the difference between their parent's face and the face of someone else.

Newborn babies are able to follow a light with their eyes and turn toward lights. However, their eye movements may not be well coordinated at first. Their eyes may move independently of each other. Newborn babies are very near-sighted, and they can focus best on things that are within 25 centimetres (10 inches) of their faces. Their vision improves over the first three months of life.

Here are a few interesting facts about what newborn babies like to look at:

  • They love to gaze at people’s eyes, especially those of their parents.
  • They are attracted to bright colours.
  • They enjoy light and dark contrasts and sharp outlines.
  • They recognize and are interested in primary colours: red, blue and yellow.
  • They like patterns, such as stripes or circles, rather than plain surfaces.
  • They prefer curved patterns rather than straight, and more complex patterns rather than simpler ones.
  • They are especially attracted to movement, and they will focus on and follow a moving ball with their eyes.


During pregnancy, a fetus will often respond to sound. They may kick when a loud sound is heard or be soothed when calming music is played. Newborn babies can tell the difference between different voices and other sounds, and they can determine which direction a sound is coming from. They often also startle when loud sounds are heard. Newborn babies show a preference for the human voice, especially high-pitched, female voices. They usually recognize their own parents' voices right away, since they have heard them, albeit a bit muffled, throughout pregnancy. Newborn babies become quiet when they hear their parents' voices, and they turn their heads toward a parent when they speak. Newborn babies enjoy being spoken to in a soothing manner, with emotion and feeling. They can tell the difference between soft, melodic speech and an angry voice.


Newborn babies are very tuned into their sense of touch. They love to be held close, comforted, cuddled, stroked and rocked. Touch is important not only to newborn babies but also to their parents. Touch appears not just to soothe and relax newborn babies but also to enhance their growth and comfort level.

Newborn babies enjoy gentle stroking of their skin. Gentle stroking helps newborn babies to sleep, and it helps to encourage closeness between a baby and their parent. Gentle stroking is especially beneficial for premature babies and leads to increased weight gain, more alertness and activity, and an earlier discharge from hospital.


Newborn babies also have a highly developed sense of taste. Newborn babies enjoy sweetness (especially breast milk) and dislike sour liquids. Their sense of taste develops further as they get older.


Newborn babies are quite attuned to the smell of their parents. They are attracted not just to the smell of breast milk, but also to a parent’s own unique scent.

Last updated: June 18th 2024