Does My Baby Recognize Me?

Mom and baby looking at each other

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From the moment you hold your baby for the first time, you know that they are yours. You’re ready to take care of them and shower them with love. But even from those first days, knowing full well that your little one is completely dependent on you, you still long for that hint of recognition in their eyes—the understanding that they know who you are, too.

The good news: Your baby recognizes you from birth. “Your baby’s brain begins developing in the womb. By the time they arrive, they can recognize your voice,” says Lisa P. Hoang, MD, a pediatrician at Providence Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, Calif. and a mom of a 4-year-old. As they get older, infants' brains continue to develop, and their ability to recognize, remember and even miss the people around them grows.

Here, learn about the remarkable leaps your baby makes in their memory skills over their first year, and how their awareness of you and other loved ones grows along the way.

How Does a Baby's Memory Develop?

Your baby’s brain begins to grow during the third week of gestation, when the cells that will eventually make up the nervous system begin to flourish. By the ninth week of pregnancy, babies have developed a smooth structure that is recognizable as a brain. From there, the brain continues to grow and take shape at a rapid rate until your baby is around 2 years old.

The human brain has three main parts: The cerebrum, which includes the cerebral cortex; the brain stem; and the cerebellum. There are also smaller structures within the brain, including the limbic system, which is made up of the hippocampus and the amygdala. “The limbic system and the frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex control memory,” explains Dr. Hoang.

While the physical development of your baby’s brain is what drives memory function, their environment and the stimulation they receive are just as crucial over the first few years of life. “Engaging with your baby and providing a stimulating environment with plenty of opportunities to watch, learn, and interact with toys, objects, and people help to promote brain development,” Dr. Hoang says.

Does My Baby Recognize Me?

First, babies recognize your voice, especially if you talk a lot during your pregnancy. Studies show that processing the sounds of your voice while in utero helps babies develop an innate preference for you upon birth, as well as important auditory learning and memory skills.

Their ability to recognize the faces of their parents and other relatives evolves quickly over their first year of life. “Frequency of exposure—essentially, the more times they see and interact with loved ones like grandparents, aunts, and uncles—plays a huge role in who they are able to recognize,” says Dr. Hoang. Here’s when you can expect to see that glimmer of recognition.

1 to 4 Months

During the first few months of their lives, babies are paying attention to the faces around them. “They will start to recognize their parents’ faces, along with other caregivers’ faces, plus people who are familiar,” says Dr. Hoang.

By 4 months, babies are good at recognizing others’ faces, particularly their parents, says pediatrician Christina Johns, MD, Senior Medical Advisor at PMPediatrics, the largest pediatric urgent care group in the U.S. This may be true for family members they see multiple times a week as well.

5 to 8 Months

As your baby continues to become more familiar with your face and relatives or friends they see the most, they will start to differentiate between people they know and people they don’t. “At this point, your baby can tell if someone is a stranger,” says Dr. Hoang. “Around 6 months, they will probably recognize family members they see and interact with once a week. If they see members of your family or friends infrequently, it can take them longer to recognize these individuals.”


Around 6 months, your baby will also start to recognize and respond to their own name. This is assuming that you have been using their proper name consistently—pronouns can be confusing for babies and toddlers, says Dr. Hoang.

9 to 12 Months

As babies near a year old, their recognition of their parents and other people they see regularly should be consistent. “By the age of 12 months or so, if a parent feels like their baby doesn’t recognize them at all, they should raise the concern with their pediatrician,” says Dr. Johns.

During this phase, babies will also start to recognize objects and toys. “You will start to notice that your baby will begin to develop their preferences, often having a favorite toy,” shares Dr. Hoang.

Does My Baby Remember Me?

If your baby seems delighted to see you, does that mean they visualize your face in their memories when you are apart? The short answer: Not quite. "In the early months, it’s less about 'remembering' and more about forming a trusting relationship with a parent and caregiver," explains Joelle McConlogue, MD, a pediatric physician at Stanford Children’s Health. "If a baby has their needs responded to quickly and lovingly, they will develop trust and confidence and will form a loving attachment to their provider."

While this experience isn't what you may think of as a traditional memory, for a baby it is pretty close. "For most of us, our early memories often don’t start until around age 3 or later, and we don’t remember very early events," Dr, McConlogue says. "However, babies from a very early age do recognize and respond favorably to familiar people and places and have emotional or implicit memories. The memory at this age is the feeling of being cared for and secure." 

Does My Baby Miss Me?

Young babies may recognize the faces of their parents and other relatives, but it isn't until later that they'll miss a loved one who's not around. That’s because it takes time for babies to understand object permanence. “This means that they begin to realize that familiar people and objects still exist even when they are not in sight,” explains Dr. Hoang.

Here’s how your baby is likely to develop an awareness of object permanence, and the feeling of missing you along with it, over their first year of life.

1 to 4 Months

A newborn baby’s only concern is whether their needs are being met—and it matters little who is meeting them. “Your baby will be able to recognize if the person caring for them is not their primary caregiver,” says Dr. Hoang. “But, if your baby’s needs are being met, they can easily adjust to whoever is with them at the moment.”

For this reason, even if they know who their parents or other close caregivers are, babies are not necessarily concerned if you aren’t around. 

5 to 8 Months

It's midway through their first year that babies begin to develop object permanence. "Prior to this, if a parent takes a block or toy that a child is interested in and hides it under a blanket, the child may initially look confused, but then forget about the object," explains Dr. McConlogue. "Once object permanence develops, though, they’ll look for the toy. This is when the peek-a-boo game becomes fun!"

This is also the first step toward your little one missing you when you’re not around. “Your baby will start to understand when they are separated from you,” says Dr. Hoang. And when they do, they may want to be with you again—in other words, they will miss you.

Unfortunately, the development of object permanence is also the first step toward babies developing separation anxiety as well. “Your baby doesn’t understand that you, or another caregiver, will always come back," notes Dr. Hoang. “Going out for a date night or walking into another room may cause your baby to fuss to prevent being separated from you.” 

9 to 12 Months

Now that your baby has developed object permanence, they may miss anyone (and anything) they have come to recognize fondly. This separation anxiety may continue through age 3, when they can start to understand the concept that you will be back after a set period of time.

Wariness of strangers may develop during the second half of your baby's first year, too. “Babies do develop stranger anxiety around nine months,” shares Dr. Johns. "This can manifest as shyness, nervousness, or distrust of anyone they don’t recognize.

A Word From Verywell

Your baby’s brain and memory begin developing just a few weeks after conception and continue to grow at a rapid pace through their infancy. They may begin to recognize your face, and the faces of close relatives, by around 4 months old. Just a few months or so after your baby first begins to light up when they see you, they might start to wail and fuss when you're apart.

The best way to facilitate this important development in your baby's awareness of others is to talk to and smile at your baby often. But it's also important to remember that while babies are expected to acquire certain basic social skills over the course of their first year, your baby may hit milestones a bit later. If you’re concerned about your baby’s development, speak with your pediatrician or a healthcare provider.

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6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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