As you already know, newborn babies communicate mainly through cries. The first cry you probably heard was your baby’s birth cry, which consists of a couple of gasps and a wail lasting about a second. Other cries will tell you things like “I’m hungry,” “I’m in pain,” or “I’m upset.” The hunger cry is typically a pattern of loud crying, silence, whistling inhalation, and rest, which may include a sucking response. Pain is expressed by a loud, shrill cry. This pattern includes a long cry, a long breath-holding silence, and whimpering. Often your baby will manifest tension in his face, some frowns, or clenched fists. An upset or angry cry expends a large volume of air, resulting in an exasperated sound. These are general patterns of cries— your baby will have his own variation. It won’t take you long to tell the difference between your baby’s cries. This is a first area of connection for you and your baby, just like eye contact in the visual system and reflexes in the motor system.
Vision and hearing are relatively well developed in the newborn (compared to other areas). Your newborn can see things best about 7½ inches from his or her face. Babies are sensitive to color and bright light, closing their eyes if the light is too bright. They can recognize an object if it reappears within 2½ seconds—meaning that their memory lasts for a very short time, but is still present. During the newborn period, babies are alert—looking around their environment—about 5% of the time they are awake. And they sleep about 70% of the time—though not all at once! This means that newborns are alert a total of about 22 minutes a day. Sometimes newborns get “stuck” on interesting objects, because they don’t yet have the movement or motor control over their body to shift attention from one object to another.
Newborns seem to have preferences about what to attend to. They like objects that move, things that have sharp contours, and dark/light contrasts. When looking at your face, your baby will tend to look at your hairline, eyes, or mouth—areas that present high-contrast visual stimuli.