Colors. Some parents pick pastels; meanwhile, toy stores fill shelves with bright combos of red, white and black. Research has shown that babies enjoy all the colors of a vivid rainbow. Additional studies found that red, purple and blue hues attract babies’ attention the most.
What babies love: Bold, brilliant and distinct colors, particularly when combined in checkerboard or bull’s-eye patterns, two designs that sport obvious contrast. If you’ve already decorated your nursery in a subdued palette, don’t grab a paintbrush just yet. Bright mobiles fulfill babies’ cravings for color just as well. Babies pay less attention to the walls than to objects within reach, especially those in motion. “My babies were mesmerized by anything that fluttered: wind ribbons, mobiles and fish,” says Lori Phillips of Corona, California.
Faces. More than colors and patterns, babies enjoy faces. Little ones are likely to lock in on hairlines, eyes and mouths. While they’ll zone in on strangers and even stare at dolls and toys with facial features, mom’s face is preferred.
What babies love: Conversation and animated expressions. “Speech really gets their attention,” says Lynne Werner, PhD, a professor of speech and hearing sciences at the University of Washington. Such interaction is far from one-sided—it’s an essential part of socialization. Babies love “motherese,” our sing-song mix of high and low tones. (And, yes, those silly terms of endearment we can’t seem to keep to ourselves.) Stay within 8 to 12 inches and pause between sentences as you ask your baby questions or describe your actions. Watch how intensely your little one observes and attempts to imitate your movements.
Touch. Positive touch reduces pain and stress hormones, improves immunity, and facilitates growth in infants. “Touch is a baby’s native language,” says Lisa Davis, director of The Foundation for Infant Massage and Family Bonding in Brooksville, Florida. “It requires no interpretation.”
What babies love: Massage. Beyond the physical benefits, massage just plain feels good. “Look at the awe and wonder in their eyes when you start to massage them,” says Davis. “Every nerve ending is waiting in anticipation.” Make massage a habit at diaper changes, after baths or before bedtime.
Music. Most babies enjoy pure tones: mechanical notes such as chimes, ringing bells or music boxes. And who doesn’t prefer rhythmic sounds over-disorganized noises? When it comes to a favorite musical category, infants don’t always agree. While some babies may be intrigued by the smooth sounds of Enya or the classical cadences of Mozart, Julie Plizga of White Lake, Michigan, has a baby daughter who loves pop music. “She’s already a huge fan of Hannah Montana,” says Plizga.
What babies love: Dancing or moving to the beat. Laurel Trainor, PhD, director of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, conducted a study that included bouncing babies on a particular beat while listening to music. Some babies were bounced on every second beat (a march-like rhythm), others on every third (a waltz-like rhythm). The result: Babies bounced on the second beat preferred marches; babies bounced on the third preferred waltzes. It leaves an aspiring stage mom wondering: What did Pavarotti listen to as a wee babe?
Comfort. Tending to your baby’s needs in a prompt, comforting and consistent manner is essential in developing trust, empathy and lasting bonds.
What babies love: Time with mom and dad. “They are into the fact that you are into them,” says Davis. According to Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute in Miami, Florida, early bonding helps promote a lasting relationship and can be enhanced by physical closeness such as breastfeeding, massage, skin-to-skin contact, bathing, eye-to-eye contact and rocking. When it comes to baby time, “Just relax and enjoy,” says Field. “That’s what it’s really all about.”