Touch is your baby's first sense to develop, starting around 7 weeks of pregnancy. Once your baby's born, touch plays a key role in their bonding process with you as you feed, cuddle, and bathe them. Touch is also an important way to soothe and calm your baby – they thrive on skin-to-skin contact with you. You can help your baby develop their sense of touch by encouraging them to play with and grasp toys and objects with different textures and shapes.
Touch is one of your baby's key senses. It plays a vital role in helping you bond with your baby. It also helps your baby communicate their needs and wants, interact with other people, and explore their environment.
Is touch the first sense a baby develops?
Yes, your baby's first sense to form is touch, starting in the first trimester of pregnancy. Over the next few months in your womb, touch receptors develop all over your baby's body.
By 11 weeks of pregnancy, your baby begins to make tiny movements. These movements mark your baby's first explorations as they feel their environment and their own body. By the middle of the third trimester, your baby can feel a whole range of sensations including heat, cold, pressure, and pain.
Touch is one important way you first communicate and interact with your baby, as you hold, feed, cuddle, bathe, and soothe them. Later, your baby uses their sense of touch to learn about the texture and shape of the world around them.
How does my baby's sense of touch develop?
Your baby's sense of touch begins in the womb and continues to develop and evolve during their first year and beyond.
In the womb
Your baby's sense of touch starts to develop by 7 or 8 weeks of pregnancy. Even before they're born, babies can feel a whole range of sensations including temperature variations and pain.
Your baby is born with highly sensitive skin. Some of the areas of their body that are particularly sensitive to touch include their mouth, cheeks, face, hands, abdomen, and the soles of their feet.
For a newborn baby, skin-to-skin contact is a vital part of bonding and communication. They're comforted by the feel of you touching their skin. They're also able to respond to touch with their grasping reflex.
If you stroke the palm of your baby's hand, they'll curl their fingers around yours and grip them. Likewise, if you put an object in the palm of their hand, they can grip it. Most infant reflexes disappear as your baby gets older.
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Your baby's mouth is highly sensitive, too. They use mouthing as another way of learning and exploring.
If you gently touch your baby's cheek, they'll turn their head in response and use their mouth to explore the source of the touch. This reaction is called the rooting reflex. When placed on your chest, they use their mouth to find your nipple to latch on and feed.
At 1 month, your baby's hands are closed most of the time. But when their hands are open, they'll enjoy grasping your finger if you touch their palm.
2 to 3 months
Your baby enjoys the feel of your touch as you handle them. They begin to respond to friendly handling and gentle touching. Your baby's tongue, lips, and mouth are very sensitive. When they chew on a soft toy, they're using them to investigate its feel and texture.
Your baby won't be able to pick things up for themselves, but will enjoy having things placed in their hand. They can notice the difference between hard and soft items.
As your baby's muscles grow and strengthen, especially in their arms and hands, they begin reaching out and touching objects.
Your baby lifts and holds, grasping objects with both hands. But they still use their mouth to feel textures.
They're likely to enjoy the sensation of being in water and, particularly, of splashing water in the bath.
Your baby's sense of touch is improving. They're learning to reach out and grasp objects with both hands, often passing them from hand to hand. They enjoy toys they can touch and interact with. Encourage this by introducing toys that make sounds when they're touched.
7 to 8 months
Your baby's spatial awareness is developing. Together with their sense of touch, it enables them to tell the difference between flat and 3D objects. They'll enjoy touching objects with parts that can be grabbed (such as handles), twisted, or spun.
They may be beginning to crawl or scoot, giving them more access to objects to touch and explore.
9 to 10 months
Your baby is more mobile, and discovering new things to touch all the time – just make sure they're child-friendly and safe. They still use their mouth to investigate objects.
Your baby will enjoy picking up objects and putting them into containers. Look for toys and objects that are colorful or have moving parts (such as levers, doors, or wheels) that your baby can explore safely.
11 to 12 months
By the time they're 1 year old, your baby's exploring all sorts of textures – hard, soft, cold, wet, sticky, and squishy. They're not investigating objects as much with their mouth, and are much better at using their hands to touch and play with objects.
How can I soothe my baby with touch?
Gentle touch is one of the best ways to soothe and calm your baby. If your baby is fussy or crying, you can calm them by stroking their back.
Babies enjoy being held, caressed, stroked, rocked, and carried, as it's comforting and calming. Your baby will enjoy being close to you and sensing the familiar warmth, smell, sound, and feel of your body.
The power of touch is recognized in the use of "kangaroo care" – holding a newborn baby against your bare chest to maximize skin-to-skin contact. Studies have found that kangaroo care can improve your baby's oxygen levels, reduce crying, and improve sleep and breastfeeding.
The benefits don't just apply to your baby. They make moms and dads feel better too.
Close contact helps regulate your blood pressure and hormone levels. When you hold your baby close, you release oxytocin, also known as the love hormone. Studies have found that moms' and dads' oxytocin levels can rise after contact with their baby.
Your baby may also enjoy being massaged. Regularly massaging your baby helps with the bonding process.
How to encourage your baby's sense of touch
You can help your baby explore and develop their sense of touch in a number of ways:
- Play is important for learning and development. Playing with different toys or household objects can have many positive benefits and help stimulate your baby's development. Look for different textures – smooth, rough, hard, or soft – and toys that make noises, like rattles. Baby books incorporating textures are good, and you can explore the feel of fabrics, feathers, cardboard, or artificial fur. When your baby's old enough, introduce tactile play with sand, clay, or water.
- Encourage your baby to grasp objects. At first, you can simply open your baby's hand and stroke it with different textures. As they progress, they'll want to pass items from hand to hand themself.
- When your baby starts eating solids, let them touch and play with their food. Although it can get messy, it's a good learning experience! It encourages them to try new foods and gives them a chance to use their fingers and hands to explore textures. When they get the food in their mouth, they'll continue to explore with their tongue.
- Massage provides vital skin-to-skin contact and improves long-term attachment and emotional resilience. It's good for all babies, including premature and low-birthweight babies.
Is touch the first sense a baby develops? ›
Touch. This is the very first sense to form, with development starting at around 8 weeks. The sense of touch initially begins with sensory receptor development in the face, mostly on the lips and nose.What is the first sense to develop in babies? ›
Smell. The brain's olfactory (smell) center forms very early in fetal development. Studies have found that newborns have a keen sense of smell. Within the first few days they will show a preference for the smell of their own mother, especially to her breast milk.How does the sense of touch develop? ›
Your baby's sense of touch begins to develop when he's still in the womb—around week 7. As soon as he's born, your little one starts learning about himself and the world through his ultra-sensitive tactile sense. That's why holding him skin-to-skin or giving him a massage is so powerful.Why a baby's first touch may set their sense of the world? ›
This rule may apply most acutely with a baby's first touch, based on new research from Vanderbilt University and Nationwide Children's Hospital. Their findings show a baby's earliest encounters with touch dictate how a child will later perceive caresses and other tactile stimulation.Why is touch so important to early development? ›
When touch is nurturing, in other words, loving, kind, and wanted by the child, touch plays a key role in healthy child development. Nurturing physical touch promotes development of young children's physiological systems involved in regulating emotions and stress responses.When can a baby feel touch? ›
Sensation. After around 18 weeks, babies like to sleep in the womb while their mother is awake, since movement can rock them to sleep. They can feel pain at 22 weeks, and at 26 weeks they can move in response to a hand being rubbed on the mother's belly.What is the order of development of the 5 senses? ›
Sight comes first, because the eye is such a specialized organ. Then come hearing, touch, smell, and taste, progressively less specialized senses.How important is touch to a baby? ›
Touch is essential for human survival; babies who are deprived of touch can fail to thrive, lose weight and even die. Babies and young children who do not get touched also have lower levels of growth hormone, so a lack of touch can actually stunt a child's growth.What is a baby's first instinct? ›
The definition of rooting reflex is an automatic oral action a healthy newborn makes. Another name for the rooting reflex is the root reflex. The rooting reflex in babies is a basic survival instinct. This reflex helps your baby find and latch onto a bottle or your breast to begin feeding.What physical skill do babies develop first? ›
For instance, babies first learn to hold their heads up, then sit with assistance, then sit unassisted, followed later by crawling, pulling up, cruising, and then walking. As motor skills develop, there are certain developmental milestones that young children should achieve.