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BREASTFEEDING not only provides the baby's biological needs of nutrition and immunity but also decreases uterine bleeding.  In that sense, the baby saves the mother's life.  The activity forges a stronger bond between mother and child and develops motherlove, an important factor in her being more patient, more protective and more caring, especially if the baby turns out to be more 'demanding' than expected.

BREASTFEEDING also increases the interactive time between baby and mother, thus promoting learning.  Mothers who breastfeed generally talk to their infants, sing to them, rock them, look into their eyes, even kiss them more. Reports of breastfed babies having higher IQs  may distress mothers who cannot provide this precious sevice, but they are told that holding their babies while bottlefeeding would help, as would all  other mothering activities.

For mothers who cannot breastfeed, the provision of optimum amounts of special and essential nutrients have been a great concern.  Studies done in this area reveal that certain items naturally occurring in breast milk and added to currently available infant formulas can increase IQ by several points.  Such substances are needed in the development of the brain and the rest of the nervous system, and may actually spell a difference in future language, math and reasoning skills.
This page was last updated on: August 28, 2018

Breastfeeding Facts/Support from Medline
Learning to be from UNESCO
Face Perception in Infants
Attachment and Bonding - Attachment Parenting
Suckling Research - Learning and Memory
Olfaction in the Newborn - a Doctor's Thesis
Great Beginnings
The Talaris Research Institute
Newborn Vision
Try this to have a brilliant baby!
Newborn Life - Key controversies in the Last Decade
The Sounds of Language
Newborns: Learning
Mother and Baby Music
Choosing a Name for Baby
More Baby Names
Baby Gifts - Baby gift baskets for newborn babies, 
               their older siblings and even Mom and Dad

This article by Feyza Sancar and the Musica Prenatal website discuss the role of music in early learning.
THE NEWBORN BABY was thought to be a clean slate environment could write on, but we now know that the slate already has writing on it.  The baby who is newly born is not exactly without her senses, because she hears, tastes and smells, and exhibits automatic behavior programmed long before the body was totally formed.

We know that the newborn has a brain with data previously set up by genes and prenatal experiences, with a lot of space to take in more.  Neurophysiologists believe that there are about 100 billion cells that babies are born with, waiting for all sorts of programming and experiences. The more the baby is stimulated by environment, the more he is able to develop functions that prepare him for the complicated future ahead.

It is thought that if the cells are not made use of by a certain time, these may be 'discarded', hence the need for early exposure to varied stimuli in order for potentials to be realized. Some people call this special time a 'window of opportunity' which  closes when the child reaches a particular age.  For some skills, the crucial time may be the child's first three years.

Some neuropsychologists disagree with this view.  They believe, from their current studies, that the learning of language and other skills continues throughout later childhood and early adolescence.  Teachers and parents need not give up or despair if skills are not learned early, or if exposure (to a second or third language, for example) does not occur  before age three.  What is important is the recognition of the child's immense capacity for learning, and that the newborn period is a good place to start offering stimuli if one had not done so earlier.

Many people still think that the newborn can see only shadows, and that real vision appears at about a month of age, or perhaps two.  We know that these young individuals can actually fixate on an object or face and follow it horizontally.  They will imitate the expressions and motions on people's faces when they are held face to face. One mother I know kept sticking out her tongue at her baby because she was so delighted to see him do the same.  The baby apparently thought that this was something one does when you look at or face someone, and started to stick his tongue out at every new person who was coming into his line of vision.

IT IS NOT UNUSUAL for many of our newborn babies in the nursery to look at each of the interns' or residents' faces (as well as mine) while we are examining them, looking alternately at each of us as though comparing our features.  If the person is talking or making faces, their focus stays a little longer on that particular person's face. They are often very alert when they are doing this, which usually happens when I sit them up in the course of the physical examination.

The sense of taste of babies is not what we used to think it is.  They apparently prefer sweet-tasting stuff, and will grimace with sour or bitter solutions.  Most newborn babies will express this preference in the most unmistakable way, their objections or approval depending on their personalities.
Smell is something we hardly think about with regards to abilities of the newborn, but this is just as discriminating as taste.  There was a study done several years back that showed babies preferred the smell of material soaked in their mother's milk  to another solution, manifesting this peculiarity by consistently turning to that side. 

Some families know about this.  Sometimes, when the mother has to leave the house for a period of time, they place a folded garment that she had used beside the baby, claiming that this would soothe the infant, just until she comes back. It seems to work!

I once saw a breast-feeding three-week old whose mother was concerned because the baby suddenly refused to suck that day.  The little one did not have any mouth or tongue problems and was alert and active, not at all behaving like a baby with infection causing the poor suck.  It seemed a bit too early to think about doing a blood count and urinalysis to check that possibility. While taking a more detailed history, I routinely asked what the mother had been eating.  She ennumerated several things, then got to 'durian"  We had our answer.  I playfully told the baby that his mom was a gourmet, and that the fruit was really nice-tasting even if some people couldn't abide its smell.  We had no further trouble.
BABIES ALSO HEAR VERY WELL, and will actually turn to find the source of a new sound. They are stimulated by higher-pitched voices, but the lower tones of the males, usually their fathers, are known to soothe them.  Many babies respond quickly  to the voices they have been hearing while they were still in the womb, which is therefore a point for talking to the mother's belly in preparation for future communication.

From the way babies respond when I talk to rhem during physical examinations in the nursery, I am becoming more and more convinced that it is not just the sound of one's voice or the lilt of language they  respond to. One premature baby started laughing silently when I quoted his grandfather's risque joke.  Another newborn cried when a resident made a comment about his resemblance to his father.  Still another made a very loud protest when I said we ought to send him to his mother's room so he could start breastfeeding, He did it not once but three times, the two succeeding times crying when I said his mother would be glad to have him in the room, and that he must be missing her by then.. It turned our she DID NOT want to breastfeeed and was irritated with us for even suggesing it.  Of course, I should also mention that many of our babies put their tongues out or open their mouths when I ask them to.  I take care to keep my face still as I am talking to them, to convince myself that they are doing as I ask and not following my facial motions.

Some babies get upset by loud rock music, both while they were in (registering their disapproval by vigorous kicking, as one mother found out at a rock concert) and then outside, the womb (crying and moving  until the music is turned off or he is brought out of the room), but a few seem to prefer it, by their parents' accounts.  It would be logical to suppose that classical or soft music would be more calming, and usually this is the case.  Music has other benefits parents should look into, especially if one of these is the enhancement of future learning.
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