Having Fun with your Newborn
I know a lot of parents wonder how to “play” with their baby. Most parents are mainly concerned with getting the feeding, sleeping and changing routine down and making sure their baby is happy. I hear a lot of parents say “Oh i can’t wait till she’s a little bit older so I can play with her!” The good news is you can play with your baby now and odds are she will enjoy it and so will you!
Your baby is already communicating and playing with you in her own way, she also needs all sorts of stimulation. When she coos and makes noises, she’s starting a “conversation” and her journey to language development. Laying her down for some tummy time is the first step to strengthening her muscles and upper body which she will need to start crawling and later to be able to sit at a desk properly.
I’ve collected some fun and creative baby activities from my favourite blogs and books to help you have fun with your baby!
Your Baby 0-3 Months
At this stage, your baby needs to experience your touch, smell and lots of love. The first 3 months are especially hard on parents since you are still getting to know your baby; her temperament and needs as well as getting her to sleep through the night. You can still make the most of everyday routine activities!
When your baby is alert, fed and has a clean diaper that’s a great opportunity to just sit with her! Take time to listen, look, touch, hold, stroke, cuddle and talk to your baby. Giving your newborn face-to-face time is important. Research has shown that newborns, 2-5 days old, prefer to look at faces that engage them with direct contact rather than faces with an averted gaze. Your face is conveying information about your emotional state; Is Daddy happy? What’s mommy looking at now? Eye contact with your baby is important.
- Diaper Time!
Include your baby while changing her diaper by talking about what you are doing. Mention what is going on, the parts of the body and what you will do next. Your baby may not understand you now but will eventually learn to pick up on your cues, when you say “Almost done” or “I’m putting your clean diaper on” she knows what’s going on. Talking to your baby during diaper time also tells her what diaper time is about! This may be obvious but some parents can go through the whole process merely saying “hold on”,”just a sec”,”don’t cry” without explaining what’s happening. You may ask why this is important. You can totally change the experience your child has about diaper changing by telling her what’s happening early on. As your child gets older and begins to make sense of your words the experience will be less of a struggle and actually a pretty smooth experience with your child understanding the purpose and process of diaper time.
You can also keep your baby entertained by singing to her or placing a secure mirror along or above the changing table so she can have a good view when being changed. Try having your baby experience different textures like a feather or soft cloth on her tummy. Remember to tell her what you are doing.
- Bottle or Breast Feeding
Whether you are bottle feeding or breast-feeding, these are precious times to be physically close to your baby. Use this time to talk to your baby; hold her unoccupied hand or massage her feet. If you are bottle feeding, it is recommended that you “switch sides” as a breast-feeding mother would. The reason for this is that research shows there may be more advantages to breast-feeding than nutrition. With bottle feeding babies, parents usually hold their baby on a preferred side which usually stimulates one side of your baby. However, when you switch sides during breast-feeding, both sides (left and right) of your baby are stimulated as you hold her hand, massage her foot and she shifts her eye gaze. When you naturally let your child cross her midline (an invisible line down the center of the body), you are helping build a part in her brain called the corpus callosum which connects the right and left sides together and helps them communicate. You can also stimulate crossing the midline by playing with a rattle at other times.
Other research has suggested that children who are breast-fed may have higher IQs because their mothers tend to communicate and be more verbal than bottle-feeding parents. Feeding time is a great time to bond and just get to know each other. Leave your TV, cellphone or other distractions and spend this time alone with your baby and remember to talk to her.
Scientists previously (and wrongly) thought that newborns lacked the ability to imitate and that this ability wasn’t developed until babies were 8-12 months old. However, latest research has shown that a newborn as young as 12-21 days can imitate facial expressions like opening her mouth. Imitation is important to people because that’s how we learn how to interact with others. Knowing that babies are capable of mimicking actions may mean they are capable of social learning. When your baby sees you do something and attempts to imitate it or is thinking about it, she does this by using special cells called mirror neurons. Scientists believe these cells are responsible for learning through observation; how children learn to kick a ball, hold a cup or why we yawn when someone else yawns. So when your baby is watching she is also learning!
When your baby is in a happy and alert state play around with her by changing your facial expression. Bring your face close to your baby and stick out your tongue or open your mouth and hold this for a while, your baby may imitate your expression! You can also encourage her communication by saying “oooooooh. Can you say Oooooh?” wait and see if she imitates you. Try different sounds with your baby.
Remember that children develop skills at different times so remember not to alarmed if your baby isn’t mimicking every thing you do or doesn’t seem engaged by your face. Give her time and revisit these ideas later.
- Tummy Time
We usually place babies on their backs, but it’s important to give them some tummy time as well. Tummy time helps develop your baby’s physical skills, she gets to practice raising her head which develops her neck muscles, she also puts some weight on her arms and upper body getting ready for crawling, she gets to kick and move her feet more freely than if she’s in a chair.
Place your baby on a soft surface and lie down next to her so that she is facing you. Keep her entertained by talking to her, singing to her, playing with your facial expressions and encouraging her attempts at movement. Do this for a few minutes several times a day till your baby becomes more comfortable in this position. Once she starts raising her head a bit you can add a mat with a mirror (usually found at toy stores) so she can look at herself and place a few toys just out of her reach to give her a chance to reach out and grab them and keep her entertained . Try to notice when your baby is most comfortable with this activity; after nap, after a diaper change,etc.. Once your baby is a bit older and starts raising her head you can also place her on your stomach and watch her crawl over and investigate your face.
Always closely monitor your baby while she is on her tummy on the floor as some babies may rest their face right on the floor which could restrict breathing!
An all time favorite, babies love to play Peek-a-Boo! Playing Peek-a-boo teaches your baby that just because something isn’t there doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, this is known as object permanence. This is a the first stage to mental representation which is a step in functions requiring memory.
When your baby is facing you, hide your face with your hands or with a cloth then remove the cloth and say “Boo!” and smile. In the beginning your baby will be surprised, as you continue she will learn to expect your smiling face and smile back at you.
I hope this post gave you some practical and useful ideas on things to do with your newborn 🙂This post was inspired by Bright from the start by Jill Stamm and 365 Games Smart Babies Play by Sheila Ellison & Susan Ferdinandi.
Jailan Heidar is an Egyptian parent educator currently living in The Netherlands. She has a MSc. in Child and Family Studies from Leiden University. She specializes in providing parenting support to parents of children from 0-5 years through her website EarlyYearsParenting.