A DANCING BLUR: LIGHT AND SHADOWS
At birth, baby’s vision is much less developed than her sense of touch, smell, hearing, or taste. The eyes are the least stimulated sense while in the womb, a dark environment. In the absence of light, it is impossible to focus on or follow any object or color. This sense requires the most development upon the newborn’s arrival. At birth, the world around baby appears like a blur with shadows and light streaks dancing around. In Diary of a Baby, six-week-old Joey sees the dance of shadows and light on the wall. In a recent British movie, the Duchess of Devonshire dangles a large crystal over her baby girl in a cradle. Was this to create a dance of light for her newborn?
A SIDEWAYS GLANCE?
Newborns do not notice what is directly in front of them, but what is on the edge of their visual field. Elia received a lesson at two weeks. At the end of her lesson, her mother leaned directly over her and spoke. Elia rolled her head to one side and looked up at her mother. Her mother was very happy to see her baby respond. Try holding a brightly colored object – like a red rattle – in front of baby’s face, then move it slowly to one side. That is where it will catch her eye!
A newborn can also see only about eight to thirty inches in front of her, while focusing primarily on the closer end of this range. Bring your face close to hers when you talk to her. How far is eight inches? You can think of this distance as approximately the same distance as from the mother’s face to the baby while she is breastfeeding. Focusing within the eight inches near the body allows the newborn to learn about herself as she sees her hand move past her face. Nature is gradually introducing her to the larger world. She can learn about her mother and father’s faces, her own arms, the blankets in her crib before meeting the mirror on the wall, the family dog, and the towering bookshelf in her room.
MOVEMENT AS PLAY
Newborns see movements much easier than a static object, that includes moving faces! Gently shake a rattle and they will see it easier than if it is held static. “Face Play” is one of the earliest forms of baby play. Bring your face close to hers, no more than eight inches, and exaggerate various expressions with your face. Smile, frown, make a big “O” with your mouth, experiment and observe how she responds! Remember that minor changes in movement are a lot for them because they are so limited in their visual ability. If you keep too still or gyrate too much it can be disconcerting to them. Try including a light brush of the cheek with the back of your hand as you hold them. The brain has so much work to do right now that if too much activity makes them feel unsettled. They are in a brand new environment with tremendous stimulation. As that they are taking all of that in, their brain and nervous system are developing.