A new-born, in the first 6 weeks of its life, has a lot of hard work to do and is basically busy with figuring out how to adapt to this new “life-outside-of-the-womb” situation. It has to learn how to breathe, drink, digest, look, listen, move and simply exist. It comes to this world armed with very little except for a few reflexes that help it survive:
- Rooting Reflex: This reflex helps the new born to turn its head and open its mouth towards stimulation, and thus find the breast or bottle that contains nourishment.
- Sucking Reflex: This very important reflex helps the new-born take in nourishment. When the roof of the mouth is touched, the new-born begins to suck, sometimes on fingers, or even hands!
- Grasp Reflex (Palmar grasp): The new born makes a fist and holds on any object e.g. finger, that strokes its palms (maybe to instinctively hold on to the mother?). The Babinski reflex on the feet has a similar grasping affect.
- Startle Reflex: With this reflex the new-born throws back its head, arms and legs when startled. It cries, and then pulls the arms and legs back in.
- Walking Reflex: A new born seems to be walking, or dancing, if held on a solid surface.
- Tonic Neck Reflex: When a new-born is lying with the head turned to one side, the arm on that side extends, while the opposite arm bends at the elbow (a so-called “fencing” position)
But beyond these reflexes, the new-born really does not really know what it wants and has a lot to learn. It has to learn the difference between day and night. It has to learn to deal with digestion and colic pains. It slowly develops a rhythmic pattern of sleeping, drinking, pooping, crying and being awake, although it will sleep through most of the day (and night, if the parents are lucky).
Any time after 4 weeks a new born may give its first conscious smile. Also around the same time it will get its first pimples caused by the mother’s hormones still in the blood stream.
Although hearing and taste is already well developed when the baby is born, its vision is still blurry and it can only see objects around 20-30 cm away. Slowly the visual and touch perception develops. The new born might start imitating faces and sticking out the tongue if it sees someone doing it. Also hand-eye coordination improves and the muscles and bones strengthen. The new born starts cooing and making some sounds, while its brain is trying to figure out the different sounds and tones it hears.
The most important objective in this period is the building of basic trust and closeness with the parents or caregivers. Also for the parents, especially first-time parents, it is a very trying period with insecurities and experimentation. This is a time of rapid learning for both, the new-born and the parents.
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Resources and References
Encyclopedia of Children’s health: Eye and Vision Development