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Do Babies Know Their Mother At Birth? The Bonding Has Already Begun

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After spending nine months bonding with your babe in utero, you might feel like you know him, well, inside and out. From his hilarious hiccuping fits to his tear-inducing kicks to your ribs, you’d recognize baby anywhere. But can the same be said of your newborn? You might wonder if babies know their mother at birth — and happily, they do.

Turns out, all that talking to your belly will not only be the biggest factor in bonding after birth, but it will allow your baby to know exactly who you are, too. “Voices, like music and other sounds, can be heard in the womb,” Dr. Richard Honaker, M.D., a family physician, tells Romper. “It is thought that babies are able to recognize familiar sounds and voices like Mom’s and Dad’s.”

Although babies can start to hear sound around the 18th week of pregnancy, it won’t be until the third trimester that your baby will actually recognize — and respond to — your voice, reported Healthline. In a heart-racing study, “Fetus Heart Races When Mom Reads Poetry; New Findings Reveal Fetuses Recognize Mother’s Voice In-utero,” two sets of 30 fetuses were tested to see if they knew the difference between their mothers’ voices and that of a stranger. One group of fetuses was played an audio recording of their mommies reading a poem to them, and the other group listened to the same poem read by a female stranger. The study, which was published in Science Daily, found that the babies who listened to their mothers’ voices had heart rate acceleration, while the stranger’s voice didn’t make the babies’ heart skip a beat.

So we know that voice recognition is present even before birth. But the bonding doesn’t stop there. Your baby will soon discover who you are through his sense of smell soon after he's born. “There is evidence that the sense of smell is another factor that plays an important role in recognition of mother for babies after birth,” Dr. Cherilyn Cecchini, M.D., a pediatrician at Your Doctors Online, informs Romper. “This is why many pediatricians recommend skin-to-skin contact after delivery so that mother and baby can bond.”

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There are numerous studies backing this up. In the “chemical communication and mother-infant recognition” study, it was found that newborns can recognize their mommies by the scent of their para-axillary area (the space where your upper arm meets your chest). Of course, that’s where your boobies are, so it makes sense that babies will quickly come to know their mom’s scent based on the smell of that body part. “Babies definitely recognize their mothers’ smell, ” Dr. Nikola Djordjevic, M.D., a family physician and a medical advisor at loudcloudhealth.com, tells Romper. “It’s a basic survival instinct —knowing the smell helps the baby locate the nipple and latch onto it.” This happens early after birth, and the mother’s smell becomes hard-wired into the baby’s brain, according to Dr. Djordjevic.

But as you’re looking lovingly at your baby and wondering if he can recognize your face, don’t worry, he definitely will. Although newborns are notoriously nearsighted, according to KidsHealth (they have 20/200 and 20/400 eyesight after birth), he’ll still be able to see you smiling down at him. “After birth, newborns can see up to 12 inches away,” says Dr. Cecchini. ”But they can visualize faces and prefer looking at Mom's face, too!” Which means that your baby has known you — and loved you— right from the very start.

Studies referenced:

Queen’s University. (2003). Fetus Heart Races When Mom Reads Poetry; New Findings Reveal Fetuses Recognize Mother’s Voice In-utero

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/05/030513080440.htm

Vaglio, S. (2009) Chemical communication and mother-infant recognition

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2717541/

Experts used:

Dr. Richard Honaker, M.D., a family physician at Your Doctors Online

Dr. Nikola Djordjevic, M.D., a family physician and a medical advisor at loudcloudhealth.com

Dr. Cherilyn Cecchini, M.D., a pediatrician at Your Doctors Online