Did you know that a fetus develops its first sensitivity to touch by eight weeks of gestational age? By fifteen weeks, a human fetus has an adult's taste buds and may even begin to savor the taste of the amniotic fluid! It is no wonder then that even the most ancient wisdom prods a mother-to-be to be careful about her health and maintain a relaxed and peaceful state of mind at all times. By 25 weeks of gestational age, your baby is able to hear your voice and perhaps your partner's (if the sound is close enough to the womb) and by 27 weeks, the baby is even known to recognize the mother's voice. Yes, mind your language around your womb!
Fun Activities to Induce Your Baby's Senses
On a more serious note, here are some practical ways in which you can make use of the above knowledge and begin to stimulate your baby's developing senses of hearing, smell, sight, touch and taste. You can start your interactions with your child and begin the first lessons in life while it's still in the womb! Of course, once the baby is born, you can take over from where you left off the womb lessons and continue stimulating the senses further, especially its sense of sight (which develops the most after the baby is born in the first few weeks). Let us explore some fun ways to stimulate your baby's senses.
Sense of Touch
- Stroking the pregnant belly is a common form of stimulation. It comes naturally to the mother from early pregnancy.
- In response to the kicking and nudging felt inside the womb, you may even try to gently massage the belly using coconut oil or olive oil.
- Experts suggest that gently caressing your pregnant belly regularly and patting it in a rhythmic fashion, especially before bedtime can have a soothing effect on the baby. In fact, the baby will continue to associate these touching and calming activities with sleep time even after birth, making it easier for you to put the baby to sleep.
- Encourage your partner and even your other children to engage in this most basic form of interacting with the baby through stroking of your belly. There's a great likelihood of the baby remembering these interactions even after birth.
- Make your newborn baby feel safe and secure by gently caressing the face and limbs.
- About two months after birth, you may start massages with some pressure and in a kneading motion. Bath time can provide great moments to introduce your baby to the world of cold water, warm water, water droplets and foam, etc.
- Rubbing the muscles on the limbs helps develop your baby's body language.
- Expose your baby to different textures using creams, oils, paper, cloth, sprays, soap bubbles, etc. Let your baby feel these substances with bare hands and explore his/her sense of touch!
- Gradually, let your baby play with toys and objects of different shapes and textures. Just leave soft-edged toys or empty, colorful cardboard or plastic boxes with the baby on an activity mat and watch the fun. Don't prod too much except when objects start moving towards their mouths!
Sense of Hearing
- Sound stimulation is the easiest form of fetal stimulation, even though the baby's ears are filled with amniotic fluid inside the womb. The baby constantly hears the mother's heartbeat, her digestive gurgling and blood whooshing through her body. So go ahead and talk to your baby.
- The mother's voice is known to be very soothing to the baby. You may indulge in reading stories aloud and even singing to your baby. Do not talk around the baby but to the baby (the hearing is not that well-developed yet). Silly as it may seem, stroke your belly while reading and talking to your baby in the womb.
- Even the deeper voice of a father may be audible to the baby if it is close enough to the belly.
- Low sound frequencies are known to travel through liquids. Go ahead and play the low notes on the piano or the bass and percussion instruments. If your baby is awake and active, you may witness jigging responses to the music.
- The mother's heartbeat is perhaps the most rhythmic and familiar sound recognized by a fetus.
- You might want to turn the music down if you feel rapid, disorderly movements from your womb. High-pitched sounds and noise are not positive stimulations.
- Again, in conformance with ancient wisdom, lullabies and soft, comforting voices of its parents are a baby's favorite sounds. Indulging in a sleep time routine of soft music and rhythmic rocking usually puts most babies to sleep.
- About five months after birth, the baby is aware of the source of the sound. You will notice that your baby instantly turns towards the source of sound and tries to "face" the music! Encourage this behavior and try to indicate to the baby what object is making the sound.
- Imitating the sounds of animals is mostly a sure shot way of making a baby smile or laugh. They love repetitive and funny noises.
- There's a reason why a noisy rattle is a baby's best friend. It engages the baby's senses of touch and sound and the baby knows the source of the sound. By learning to play the rattle or even objects like spoons, etc., the baby tries to control the source of sound and discovers that he/she can actually make the sound and stop it too! It is a small achievement but a big developmental milestone for the little one.
- Use bath time to let your baby discover the various sounds of water (pouring, splashing, squirting, etc.).
Sense of Smell and Taste
- Inside the uterus, the nose of the fetus develops by the fifteenth week of gestation. The amniotic fluid that fills the nasal cavities and mouth of the fetus is believed to be its first tryst with odors and taste.
- Maintaining a healthy diet and incorporating many flavors is perhaps the only stimulation you can provide. In fact, pregnancy cravings could be your baby's way of telling you what it likes!
- Irrespective of conscious stimulation; however, the sense of smell is strongest at birth.
- The fetus is shown to swallow more amniotic fluid when it has a sweeter taste than when it's bitter or sour. This seems to be in preparation to instinctively seek out and savor breast milk as soon as it is born. Sounds like your baby can have a sweet tooth even before its teeth start to emerge!
- Your baby might just love your regular perfume. Anything that constitutes a mother's scent is stimulating for the baby.
- Let your baby be carried around by other members of your family. This will help expose them to scents other than the mother's.
- Yet again, bath time is the best opportunity to expose your baby to other pleasant smells. The scents of soap, shampoos and fresh towels can be a fun experience.
- Keep your baby away from the strong smells of smoke and burning. Not only will these smells seem obnoxious and uncomfortable for the baby, prolonged exposure will affect the baby's sense of smell.
- Chewy toys in different flavors make babies salivate helping them to explore different tastes.
- Do not bombard your baby with the taste of flavors, gradually move from bland to intense flavors of mashed vegetables and fruits in the daily diet. Don't overdo the use of spices and condiments.
- When the baby has developed its teeth, include food with different textures (soft, grainy, sticky, watery, etc.).
- With these stimulation methods, your baby will slowly learn to associate colors, flavors, odors and consistencies, thus putting into use all the senses at once.
Sense of Sight
- The sense of sight is the last to develop; the eyelids remain closed until twenty six weeks of gestational age. Subsequently, until birth the eyes open and the blinking reflex develops.
- Want to show a flashlight towards your pregnant belly? Experts suggest it could harm your baby. Refrain from doing so until the last month of pregnancy and do it only when you're absolutely sure the baby is active and not asleep. It is recommended not to show very intensely bright light.
- You may attempt to time this activity to tune the sleep cycle. Sometimes it works, when the baby is awake as long as the light shows and dozes off soon after the light is turned away. You will notice the responses and most mothers are able to tell if this technique works for them. Be careful not to expose your belly to bright lights for a prolonged period, it might result in retinal damage to the fetus!
- Natural light penetrating the mother's tissue enlightens the womb just enough for the baby to see in shades of black, white and gray. Color vision develops only about two months after birth.
- Are you putting on a lot of makeup to look nice when your baby first sees you? Don't worry, you will be the most beautiful mother in the world anyway! Your baby has very blurred vision at birth and certainly cannot distinguish colors. For the same reason, keep the baby in a dimly lit environment for the first few weeks. Bright lights may affect the vision of a newborn so don't open those window curtains yet!
- When your baby is around four months old, he/she will be able to distinguish a sad face from a happy face. This is a good time to mime, mimic and make faces at your baby. But be warned, you may get some nasty responses to your actions from your baby!
- Time to bring out the mirror! Let your baby face the mirror and discover the most entertaining reality show ever. Discontinue temporarily if your baby expresses any discontent, mirror reflections tend to scare some babies.
- Games like peekaboo are very stimulating for a baby. Include objects in the game, as appearance and disappearance of objects are very fascinating to babies. You might witness some strong reactions to momentary disappearances of mothers and favorite toys.
- Wish to intrigue your baby some more? Bring out the photo album or play a photo slide show on your laptop. Guess which faces the baby is sure to recognize and observe the hilarious and adorable responses. Now that's a natural stress buster!
- Colorful stacking blocks and hoops, toys that move back and forth and bob about the floor are all objects that fully engage the vision of a baby.
Why is there so much stress on stimulating a baby's senses, now even extending the concept to the womb? Isn't that taking things a bit too far? Well, a lot depends on your perspective of whether you want to educate your child just a few weeks into conception or soon after birth. There is growing scientific evidence that unlike previously believed, babies are conscious and develop feelings even while inside the womb. There is clear evidence that a baby's senses develop quite a bit even in the fetal stage. Surely, you already have a natural instinct to interact and communicate with your baby, unborn as well as newborn. In addition, there are several books published by doctors and researchers about ways to engage with your baby to sharpen its senses and sensations. In fact, if you keep all the science and the educational perspective apart, the above methods are really just fun ways to reach out to your baby and strengthen the sacred bond even further!
Disclaimer: Please be aware that this article is for informative purposes only. You are encouraged to seek medical advice before employing these methods of stimulation.