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What Newborns Can Do

Updated: May 19, 2020

There are many people who believe that newborn babies only begin to really become aware of their surroundings and able to interact with those around them after a few months in the world, or when they start walking or talking. In fact, much research has shown that this could not be further from the truth.

“…Newborns come into the world with a wide array of mental skills and predispositions and a set of abilities that are uniquely suited to the critical needs of early life”. (Nugent et al. 2007)

Newborn babies are able to:


  • Newborns are sensitive to eye gaze from the very start of life.

  • Newborn babies are able to track/follow objects and faces.

  • They have a preference for faces over other stimuli, showing how social they are and how geared for bonding.

  • They also have a preference for their mother’s face, and can tell the difference between their mom’s face and that of a stranger.

  • They are also, amazingly, able to search the features of the face and use this to find clues about another person’s emotions. And they are capable of copying or imitating facial expressions!


  • Newborns are able to hear and orientate themselves to sounds.

  • They are able to tell the difference between their own home language and foreign languages.

  • They prefer high pitched voices and can differentiate between the voice of their mother and strangers.

  • Babies are able to shut out certain environmental noises.


  • Newborn babies have a highly developed sense of smell.

  • Babies can tell the difference between the smell of their mother and other people.

  • They are also able to distinguish the smell of their mother’s breast milk from another’s.


  • Babies are highly sensitive to touch.

  • Touch is a primary way that infants are able to connect to their caregivers.

  • Much research has been done on the positive effects that stroking an infant gently has on the infant’s behaviour, and the relationship between them and their caregivers.


  • Infants show a preference for sweeter tastes over bitter and salty ones.

  • They have also been demonstrated to show preferences for some sweet tastes over others.

  • These incredible capacities of newborns are all geared towards the advancement of the caregiver-infant relationship, which serves one of the primary functions of this early period.  A caregiver’s sensitivity and responsiveness to the needs of their child plays a major role in the development of a secure attachment. Relationships that make children feel safe create a sense of security and confidence impacts on their physical, emotional and cognitive development.

By: Amy Shirley, Counselling Psychologist


This information is based on: Understanding Newborn Behavior and Early Relationships: The Newborn Behavioral Observations (NBO) System Handbook (2007)  J. Kevin Nugent ,  Constance H. Keefer , Susan Minear , Lise Johnson , Yvette Blanchard.

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