The big five

There are a lot of myths in the big world around the importance of routines and having rules surrounding sleep. I however see this through a different lens and invite you to try something new.  Your baby has a strong need to understand their relationship with the world. They do this through using their senses. We have five basic senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. The sensing organs associated with each sense send information to the brain to help us understand and perceive the world around us. This starts when our babies are in the uterus and takes off when they are born. Developing and exploring these senses is pivotal for sleep, growth and development. Today’s blog will look at each of these senses and I will invite you to see ten everyday sensory experiences through a different lens.

Touch is thought to be the first sense that humans develop, this starts at birth when your baby would have had uninterrupted skin to skin contact with you. Did you know skin to skin contact helps calm and relax both mother and baby? There are many benefits of touch as it plays an important role in our wellbeing. Touch consists of several distinct sensations communicated to the brain through specialized neurons in the skin. Pressure, temperature, light touch, vibration, pain and other sensations are all part of the touch sense and are all attributed to different receptors in the skin.

The second sense is sight. Sight, or perceiving things through the eyes, is a complex process. Human faces, contrasting patterns, bright colours and movement are all things newborns like to see. They will typically shy away from bright lights but their eyes will be bright in duller light. Black and white images and objects may keep your baby interested for longer. Looking and seeing helps your infant explore the world and the beauty that surrounds it. The brain will also make adaptations if someone has sight impairments or blindness.

Hearing sounds is the sense that works via the complex labyrinth in the human ear. Hearing and the ear also play a role with balance. Did you know a baby can identify their mothers or primary caregivers voice within a week and father or secondary caregiver within a fortnight? Babies love the variation in people’s voices and the sounds we all make.  

Humans may be able to smell over one million scents, according to researchers. They do this with the olfactory cleft, which is found on the roof of the nasal cavity, next to the "smelling" part of the brain, the olfactory bulb and fossa. 

Taste or the gustatory sense is usually broken down into the perception of four different tastes: salty, sweet, sour and bitter. We have between 2000 to 4000 taste buds. Exposure to these different tastes takes time and also repeated exposure is necessary.

There are other senses but we have focused on the big five today.

Babies are very sensory. They love touching things and getting everything in their mouth. It’s how they use their senses to explore the world around them. Therefore, sensory play is essential and great for everyone.  Babies need little things to keep them entertained while playing. They need you, other children to interact with and a few simple items for sensory stimulation. That’s about it and nature is your best friend.

10 daily activities I want you to think differently about

  1. The great outdoors- I feel I say this a lot but four walls of a house or a quarter of a million leaves on a tree or more. These trees have light reflecting off them, movement, colour, shapes & shadows….
  2. Morning cup of tea outside, lying on the lawn on a mat if different to lying on the tiles inside.
  3. Water play- whether this is outdoor, in the pool, shower or bath it is another fantastic experience. The shower has raindrops which uses touch, heat, often closeness to caregiver and it is so much more than hygiene.
  4. Fold the washing basket somewhere in your house you don’t often go to. Its new and babies can explore a new space.
  5. Experimenting with food, licking foods off their fingers, smashing the avocado all over their face. This is how we learn, taste, touch and smell
  6. Play your favourite music, dance, sing and enjoy the moment. It is great for you as well as having some fun with your baby
  7. The supermarket- the lights, colours, patterns, faces, movement and smells and temperatures are all nourishing your child’s senses. So, face them out in the carrier and go for it.
  8. Go get a coffee, go to your friend’s house, its great for your baby to be handed around a little (just make sure they don’t have a cough and have clean hands.) New faces, voices and interactions all have benefits.
  9. When you are carrying your baby, face them out. They get FOMO and grizzly if they are looking at your boring shirt day in and day out.
  10. Floor play, there doesn’t have to heaps of boys, one at a time engage with them, make different voices and change the times. A piece of paper is even exciting to most children but of course keep an eye on the airway.

So, if your little one is unsettled, step outside and see what they do. I would think most will settle as they love being outside. Sensory nourishment breeds sounder sleeping. Like everything, every baby is different, some thrive on lots of sensory experiences and some do not have the same tolerance. All of this is normal and it is about exploring and understanding your baby.