New moms and dads spend a lot of time trying to interpret their babies actions and determine what was a reaction based on sheer coincidence and what was a reaction because of something they said or did. You can always tell when a new parent believes that something happened based on what they did in the knowing head nod and accompanying smile saying “yes – that just happened because I said xyz… my baby knows what’s up!”
However, it can be hard to judge when a baby responds to something because they were able to actually distinguish a certain noise or voice or if they responded simply because they saw something out of the corner of their eye or they just were hungry or fussy at the same moment as someone said or did something.
These days, when children are born in a traditional hospital setting, infants get their hearing tested before they even leave the hospital to ensure that everything is progressing the way it should be and diagnose any potential hearing problems early on. So what is it that babies really hear and recognize first?
- Sounds around them before their born - The whole concept of pregnancy is a fascinating one – there is a tiny human growing inside of you and everything that is going on in and around you is impacting them in some way. Doctors have been able to determine that as early as 21 weeks into a pregnancy babies are beginning to hear sounds occurring outside the womb. Since each surrounding is different, the first sounds they hear are different too – whether it’s the voices of you and your husband or your other children running around playing loudly – these all are things your baby has begun to store into their sound knowledge.
- Nearby noises - Any louder sounds that are happening close to your baby will cause them to react in the first month home. They may not respond to noises that are farther away from them, so there’s no need to be concerned if they don’t react right away.
- Regular voices - The voices that your baby hears regularly during their first month home – whether it’s you, your spouse, your other children, your dogs barking, etc. – are starting to become familiar sounds to them during that first month. Anything that they hear on a constant basis becomes a distinguishing sound for them, allowing them to respond accordingly. You can tell when they’re beginning to pinpoint different noises because they will turn their head in recognition or cry to be picked up.
- Their own voices - In addition to regular voices that babies hear, during the first month they will also begin to determine what is their own voice and will practice hearing it by making different cooing and gurgling noises.
- High-pitched noises - If you ever wondered why people talk in annoyingly high-pitched octaves when around infants, it’s not because they’re intentionally being annoying, but more because that’s what babies respond to most during their first few months. This doesn’t mean you should solely rely on baby talk and cooing though – by mixing in regular, adult words and high-pitched baby talk, you are encouraging your baby to respond and speak themselves.
- Music - There’s a good reason that most doctors encourage you to immerse your child with music – babies respond and recognize the lyrical notes early on in their hearing. And you don’t need to limit your musical choices either – by watching your baby’s responses to a variety of music, you will eventually see their own musical preferences evolve as they begin to respond to different types in favorable or unfavorable ways.
- Everyday loud noises - In the first six months home your baby will begin to recognize the louder noises that they hear on a daily basis, such as a the loud roaring that accompanies the vacuum cleaner, the sounds of the TV when it’s turned on, or the chiming of your cellphone when it rings. To help develop a broader range of hearing you should stimulate louder noises by giving them toys such as rattles to play with while you’re doing household chores or running errands.
- Quieter sounds - By the time your baby passes the six month mark, they will start to respond to and distinguish quieter noises when they’re paying attention, such as whispering between two people and the rustling of leaves outside. Their hearing is fine-tuning itself at this point, so you should continue to immerse them in all sorts of everyday environments to encourage continued development.
- Names - By 10 months you should be regularly telling your baby his or her name and the names of other people and things around them, and they should be beginning to distinguish and identify people they interact with regularly by their names.
Watching your baby develop their hearing is an exciting time. Sounds that we typically tune out or take for granted, such as the neighbor mowing the lawn next door or the sound of a school bus or garbage truck rumbling through the neighborhood, are all sounds that are going to be new, exciting, and stimulating to your infant. As they continue to grow and mature different noises will become apparent to them, and while they may have been sleeping through the night just fine one week, the next they will be intent on determining what certain noises are. You just have to remember that, while you may be used to certain sounds, your baby is hearing them all for the first time and is trying to pinpoint what each and every new thing is.
It can be interesting and entertaining to introduce them to new noises and see how they react to them one by one – just make sure not to surround them with too many loud noises, their hearing is still delicate early on in life and you don’t want to do anything to damage that!
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