When will my baby recognise me?

Our baby psychologist looks at how your baby starts to recognise you and find you familiar

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I recognise you…

Within a few hours or days of your baby’s arrival into this world, you may get the feeling that she knows you. Of course that’s silly, you probably tell yourself, because a newborn couldn’t possibly recognise you from other people. But she can! In fact, when you hold her in your arms for feeding, cuddling or just for a chat, and you notice that she’s staring right back at you, she really is thinking, ‘Hi there, I’ve met you before, haven’t I’.

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Your baby has a pre-programmed parent-recognition system that comes into play as soon as she’s born. Research has revealed that within hours of her birth…

  • Your baby’s vision focuses at a point around 18 centimetres from her face, which is about the distance you hold her from your face when you’re feeding her. So right from the start, she can see your face clearly when you cuddle or feed her.
  • Her hearing is tuned to pick up the sound of a human voice more than any other sound in the environment. This means she’s able to process the particular tone and intonation of your speech.
  • She’s sensitive to the smell of your breastmilk. She can almost certainly tell the difference between the smell of your breastmilk and the smell of a stranger’s, and she much prefers yours.
  • Your face is especially interesting to her. Psychological studies have shown that a new arrival typically spends more time peering at her parent’s face in preference to a stranger’s face.
  • She’s more likely to think ‘Hello again’ on seeing you when your interactions with her use lots of different senses, such as sound sight, smell and touch. You stimulate each of her senses in a distinctive way, and these become even more distinctive when they are combined.

It started earlier

Strange as it may seem, she probably began to recognise you even before she was born! At the beginning of a research study involving women who were around six months pregnant, each mum-to-be recorded herself reading three different children’s stories. One story was then selected at random by the researchers. The mother then played this recording once every day, until her baby was delivered. The other two recordings weren’t used.

Within hours of arrival, the researchers played each baby all three of their mother’s recordings. There was little reaction to the two unused recordings, but the baby usually became very animated on hearing the recorded story that had been played every day in the last few months of the pregnancy. This proved that she recognised her mother’s voice solely on the basis of what she’d heard while in the womb.

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Building up

Her confidence in recognising who you are continues to build during the next couple of months as she gets to know you even better. Before very long she learns your different moods, your particular facial expressions, the smell of your perfume and deodorant, the touch of your hand, and the wide range of vocal tones that you use depending on your feelings at the time. All of these subtly different characteristics help her to conclude, ‘Yes, that’s my mum without a doubt’.

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