Already inside the womb, fetuses frequently bring their hands to the mouth, anticipating hand-to-mouth contact by opening the mouth.
Here, we explored whether 2-day-old newborns discriminate between hand actions directed towards different targets of the face—that is, a thumb that reaches the mouth and a thumb that reaches the chin.
Newborns looked longer towards the thumb-to-mouth compared to the thumb-to-chin action only in the presence, and not absence, of anticipatory mouth opening movements, preceding the thumb arrival.
Overall, our results show that newborns are sensitive to hand-to-face coordinated actions, being capable to discriminate between body-related actions directed towards different targets of the face, but only when a salient visual cue that anticipates the target of the action is present.
The role of newborns’ sensorimotor experience with hand-to-mouth gestures in driving this capacity is discussed.