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Does my newborn know I kiss him?

It’s only natural for parents to wonder if their newborn babies are aware of their affection and respond to it in any way. Newborns enter the world with very limited vision and hearing, and their brains are still developing rapidly in the first months of life. However, research shows that even very young infants show preferences for their parents’ voices and faces, take comfort in physical contact, and may be able to detect and respond subtly when a parent smiles, talks, or kisses them. Understanding how newborns perceive the world can help parents nurture their bonds in the earliest stages.

What capabilities do newborns have?

At birth, an infant’s senses are still very immature compared to older babies and children. Here’s a quick overview of what newborns can perceive:

Vision: Babies are born very nearsighted – they can only see objects clearly within 8-10 inches. Their eyes don’t move well together yet, so depth perception and tracking moving objects is difficult. However, they prefer looking at faces and high-contrast patterns.

Hearing: Newborns hear best at the higher end of the frequency range. While their absolute hearing thresholds are similar to adults, they have more difficulty detecting subtle differences between sounds. Familiar voices are easier for them to discriminate.

Touch: A newborn’s sense of touch is already well-developed. Babies quickly learn to root, suck, and grasp reflexively in response to skin-to-skin contact. Stroking, carrying, and skin contact are calming.

Taste & smell: Basic abilities to taste sweet, sour, bitter, salty are present. Newborns recognize and prefer the smell of their mother’s milk and scent.

So while very limited compared to older infants, newborns do have basic sensory capabilities that allow them to respond to and recognize parents on some level very early on. The capacities that allow them to detect a kiss from mom or dad are there.

Do newborns know who their parents are?

Newborns definitely show preferences for their parents, especially their mothers, within days of birth. Here are some of the early bonding behaviors researchers have observed:

Preference for mother’s voice – Within the first week, babies show a preference for their mother’s voice over a stranger’s voice. They also prefer their native language.

Focus on mother’s face – Babies just a few days old will stare longer at their mother’s face compared to a stranger’s face.

Scent recognition – Infants only a few hours old turn toward the scent of their mother’s breast milk or chest.

Rooting response – If held against their mother’s chest, newborns will reflexively turn their head searching for the breast.

Crying response – Babies often calm faster when held by their mother versus an unfamiliar person.

Familiarity with facial expressions – Infants mimic the facial expressions of their parents through reflexive imitation.

So while newborns don’t conceptualize who their parents are, their senses are adapted to preferentially focus on the sensations of those closest to them – the sound of mom or dad’s voice, their smell, their touch. These early preferences likely evolved to help cement the parent-child bond.

Can newborns detect when a parent kisses them?

Parents kissing their baby’s head or cheeks is an almost instinctive expression of affection. But do newborns actually notice when this happens? The evidence suggests they certainly can detect the physical sensations of a kiss. Here’s how:

Touch receptors in skin – A baby’s entire body is covered with touch receptors that send signals to their brain. When a parent’s lips brush gently against their cheek or head, the pressure and motion activate these receptors.

Warmth of breath – A kiss also brings the sensation of a parent’s warm breath wafting over their skin. Newborns detect differences in temperature.

Smell and taste – At very close proximity, a newborn can also smell and even get a trace of the taste of a parent’s skin and saliva when kissed. These sensory cues help babies recognize their parents.

Sound – The “smack” sound of a kiss is within the frequency range newborns hear best. When followed by parent’s voice, kissing may help infants pair the sound with the parent’s face.

Vision – While blurry, a newborn’s vision is best within kissing distance. The face of a parent leaning in for a kiss stimulates their preference for human faces.

So while the cortex of a newborn’s brain is too immature to comprehend the meaning of a kiss, the sensory elements – pressure, temperature, odor, sound, and visual stimulation – are all detectable to some extent. Their brains are primed to prefer these sensations from their closest caregivers.

How do newborns respond when kissed?

Newborns have a repertoire of reflexive, instinctual behaviors. Researchers have noticed some subtle ways babies may naturally react when a parent kisses them:

Rooting reflex – A kiss on the cheek may trigger rooting towards the kiss as if searching for a breast.

Sucking reflex – A gentle kiss can stimulate sucking motions.

Startle reflex – An abrupt kiss could trigger a startle response – spreading arms, clenching fists, frowned expression.

Reflex smile – A kiss accompanied by stroking the baby’s cheek or head may bring an involuntary, reflexive smile.

Eye widening – Kissing near the eyes may cause them to open wider momentarily.

Increased alertness – Being kissed can cause a sleepy newborn to perk up and be more wakeful briefly.

Subtle motor response – Changes in body, arm, or leg movements may signal arousal.

Calming effect – Being held and kissed can have an observable soothing effect on a fussy baby.

These reactions are primal, instinctive behaviors ingrained into the brains of infants at birth. While kissing doesn’t produce complex emotional responses in a newborn, it provides sensory stimulation that gets their attention and to which they naturally react and respond. With time and repeated exposure, these instinctive responses become associated positively with parental affection.

When do meaningful social smiles emerge?

While newborns may reflexively smile in response to stimuli like kissing, meaningful “social smiling” that reflects an awareness of and response to a parent doesn’t emerge until around 6 weeks of age. Here’s what to expect as your baby learns to smile:

0-6 weeks – Reflexive smiles emerge but are not social. Smiles happen spontaneously or in response to touch, sound, etc.

6-8 weeks – Babies start smiling in response to familiar faces and voices, initiating social interaction.

2-3 months – Social smiling becomes more frequent as babies start intensely studying faces.

4 months – Reciprocal smiling emerges as babies alternate smiles back and forth with caregivers.

5-7 months – Laughing and squealing with joy often erupt as babies initiate social play.

So while your newborn may smile spontaneously when kissed in their first weeks, true recognition doesn’t emerge until 6-8 weeks. Those early precious smiles you long to see take time to develop as their vision, attention span, and social awareness all rapidly mature.

How can I help my newborn bond with me?

Here are some tips for nurturing the parent-child bond with your newborn in their first weeks:

– Hold your baby skin-to-skin. This facilitates scent recognition, touch, temperature regulation, and breastfeeding.

– Repeat their name frequently in soothing tones. Babies recognize their mother’s voice from birth.

– Maintain eye contact when feeding and interacting. Eye contact reinforces face recognition.

– Imitate your baby’s facial expressions and sounds. Babies are programmed to mimic.

– Breastfeed on demand. Frequent feeding encourages positive associations.

– Comfort crying promptly. A fast response teaches babies their needs will be met.

– Talk, murmur, and sing to your baby often. This exposes them to the patterns of your speech.

– Tuck them in firmly when carrying. A secure embrace is calming.

– Kiss your baby frequently – on the forehead, cheeks, etc – associating physical affection with your face.

While newborns don’t cognitively understand kisses, bonding behaviors ingrain positive sensory associations between your touch, voice, scent and the comfort and safety they feel in your arms.

When will my baby start kissing back?

Don’t expect reciprocal kisses for several months! Here’s a guide to when you can expect your baby to start kissing you back:

4-6 months – Open mouth kisses on your cheek may start as babies begin actively mouthing objects. Don’t be discouraged if drool is involved!

6-10 months – Babies start deliberately turning towards your cheek when you move in for a kiss, facilitating reciprocation.

8-12 months – As fine motor skills develop, babies begin able to purse their lips in a “puckered” kissing motion rather than just an open mouth.

9-18 months – Babies learn they can elicit a positive response by intentionally kissing parents on the lips or cheek. It becomes a social game.

As babies mature both physically and cognitively, they gain voluntary control over their mouth muscles allowing real purposeful kisses. Enjoy their sloppy open-mouth kisses as you wait for those adorable puckered lips to emerge!

When do babies show attachment?

Long before they give kisses, babies start showing signs of a meaningful attachment to their primary caregivers. Here is when infants reach key attachment milestones:

6-8 weeks – Babies soothe easier when held by a parent versus others.

3-4 months – They recognize and become excited to see a parent after an absence.

5-7 months – Babies show anxiety at separation from parents and cling to them more.

9-10 months – They cry when parents leave, are standoffish after long separations.

12-24 months – Toddlers show heightened attachment with preferences for one parent.

By their first birthday, babies have formed a clear attachment to their parents or primary caregivers. Their kisses, hugs, and gestures like raising their arms to be picked up reflect this deepening bond.

Should I kiss my newborn during COVID?

With the COVID-19 pandemic, parents may worry that kissing could transmit the virus to vulnerable newborns. Here are some tips from health organizations:

– Caregivers with suspected COVID-19 or symptoms should wear masks and limit kissing and direct contact.

– It’s safest for family members with COVID-19 risk to avoid kissing baby and opt for touches like stroking feet or hands instead.

– Healthy parents and siblings who take proper precautions can still kiss lightly on the head/cheeks but avoid mouth-to-mouth kissing.

– Wash hands and wear masks when holding baby if you must go out into public areas.

– Disinfect any surfaces touched by visitors who make contact with baby.

With some adaptations, parents can still show affection while limiting newborn exposure risk. As health concerns evolve, discuss precautions with your pediatrician.


While newborns don’t truly comprehend what a kiss is, their senses are primed to soak in the closeness and sensations of this tender display of parental love right from birth. Early responses are purely reflexive at first, but lay the groundwork for social engagement and bonding in the coming weeks and months. Though it will take months of growth before they pucker up to kiss you back, those first kisses they receive nourish their rapid development, forging secure attachment between parent and child.