How to survive a baby part 2: sensory milestones, what to expect …

Posted in News on 13th January 2020

What developmental milestones do I need to look out for in my newborn? And how can I use play and simple massage to help support my baby’s sensory integration? These are two questions we promised to answer in part one of this series. In this, part two, our founder, Lisa Wilkinson explains all.

First though a little about sensory integration and the seven – yes seven – senses …

What is sensory integration?

Our brain receives information from all of our senses. It organises this information so that it can use it to function and do everyday stuff. The process by which our brain organises the information it receives from our senses is called sensory integration.

Most people are familiar with five senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. However, we also receive input through two additional senses: the vestibular sense and the proprioception sense.

What is the vestibular sense?

The vestibular sense, or movement and balance sense, gives us information about where our head and body are in space. It allows us to stay upright while we sit, stand, and walk.


What is the proprioception sense?

Proprioception, or body awareness sense, tells us where our body parts are relative to each other. It also gives us information about how much force to use in certain activities, allowing us to open a packet of crisps with just enough force that we do not spill them (heaven forbid!), for example.

Most activities require us to combine information from many different senses at the same time, and, as they grow, most children learn how to take in and process information from all seven senses.

How do I know if my baby’s sensory integration is ‘normal’?

There are some key developmental milestones that infants are expected to hit by the time they are one year old. There are also some simple exercises and play techniques you can use to support their development.

This is something I teach at our Mum and Baby Bliss Break (next event 4th – 6th February btw). Here’s a whistle-stop tour, one sense at a time, of baby’s first three months, during which time, the responsiveness of caregivers is crucial in helping babies to learn and grow.

Vestibular sense (movement and balance ) – what to expect at three months

Your baby:

  • When tilted backwards, opens her/his arms open outward (this is called the Moro reflex)
  • Starts to hold her/his head up with less support, can lift his or head while on her/his tummy and begins to show more head control when pulled to a sit
  • Follows moving objects with his/her eyes
  • Begins to support some weight on his/her legs when held upright, even though s/he will not be ready to stand for many months
  • Turns head towards breast or bottle for feeding or away from a bright light.

Activities to promote vestibular development during the first three months

  1. Hold and feed your baby in various positions.
  2. Allow your baby to spend time on his/her stomach – supervised. We will demonstrate different ways to do this
  3. Interact and observe baby’s responses to various types of motions and positions.
  4. Rock, sway, swing and dance with your baby.
  5. Place your baby facing different ways whilst sleeping
  6. Support your baby to gently roll their head, followed by their body.

Proprioceptive sense (body position ) – what to expect at three months

Your baby:

  • Stretches and burrows her/his head into her/his caregivers’ chest
  • Learns to use his/her mouth muscles to suckle on breast or bottle
  • Imitates facial actions, e.g., sticking out their tongue or beginning to smile
  • Momentarily bears weight on their feet when held upright
  • Moves her/his head towards voice or light.

Activities to promote proprioceptive development

  1. During bath time, or when dressing baby, move her/his hands together, then move each hand across baby’s the centre of baby’s body – the midline. Do the same with your baby’s feet.
  2. Play with you baby face-to-face, in a variety of positions making simple gestures s/he can imitate, such as sticking out your tongue.
  3. Encourage baby to lift his/her head whilst lying on their stomach.
  4. Carry baby in different positions.

Tactile sense (touch) – what to expect at three months

Your baby:

  • Is calm when wrapped in the arms of someone familiar, or in a blanket.
  • Reacts positively to skin-to-skin contact important.
  • Grasps at fingers and, when you stroke his/her cheek, turns his/her head in the direction of the cheek you are stroking.
  • Is startled when touched unexpectedly (startle response).

Activities to promote tactile development

  1. Provide loving, comforting skin-to-skin contact.
  2. Stroke baby’s cheeks and track his/her head movement in response to being touch.
  3. Gently massage your baby every day – we will show you how
  4. Introduce different textures through toys, blankets, and towels.

 Smell and taste senses – what to expect at three months

Your baby:

  • Anticipates feeding and turns towards the smell of their caregiver/milk
  • Shows a preference for pleasant smells and dislike for unpleasant smells (true fact: babies are born with preferences for the types of smells and tastes they experienced from the foods their mothers ate during pregnancy).

Activities to promote smell and taste development

  1. Create pleasant, calm, and comforting experiences alongside pleasant scents.

Hearing sense – what to expect at three months

Your baby:

  • Turns to the sound of a sibling or pet
  • Calms when you talk in a sing-song voice
  • Cries when startled.

Activities to promote hearing sense development

  1. Play music.
  2. Dance, sing, coo, talk and smile with baby (face-to-face contact).
  3. Let baby play with squeaky toys/toys from Make-A-Fort.
  4. Talk to your baby throughout the day.

 Sight – what to expect at three months

Your baby:

  • Sees clearly at a distance of about 1-2 feet (this is perfect for facial engagement)
  • Turns head away from light
  • Is interested in faces and is starting to make eye contact. 

Activities to promote sight development

  1. Give lots of face-to-face contact – let them watch your face while you talk or sing to them.
  2. Carry baby at shoulder height so they can look at where they are going.
  3. Carry baby as you go about your daily routine.


Interested in finding out more? Why not come on our Mum & Baby Bliss Break at our mountain lodge retreat in the stunning Glen of Imaal?

Lead by super nanny Lydia Sasse, with guest appearances by me and The hopsack’s Finn Murray,  you’re sure to leave relaxed, rejuvinated, informed and ready for whatever parenthood brings next. There’s still a few places left, so book now to grab yours…













lisa wilkinson

lisa wilkinson

Lisa Wilkinson left a successful career in the corporate world 20 years ago to retrain as a yoga teacher and went on to set up The elbowroom, a well-being hub, in the city of Dublin in 2003. Spurred on by its success, she bought and renovated a mountain lodge in Wicklow, launching it as a retreat venue in 2016, The elbowroom escape. Having directly experienced the impact of a less than ideal work life blend herself, Lisa is passionate about delivering health and happiness in the workplace. Witnessing how doing so has reduced the attrition rate within her own companies, she now offers her expertise to other companies and business owners and is a regular speaker and workshop facilitator on corporate well-being and resilience for organisations including Ibec and Dublin City fm.

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