Having a newborn baby is exhausting! All they do is sleep, eat, pee, poop and spit up! Well, yes, all that is definitely true, but newborns are also learning to take in, discover and understand you, themselves and the big world around them. YOU are the biggest influence on your child’s learning, no matter what his age, and yes, you CAN play with your newborn!
Newborn play does not come naturally to all parents. Newborns are so fragile and sleepy…WHAT, you may ask, can a baby this age do? How can you tell if your baby is really awake, alert and ready for play, aside from her eyes being open? A baby in a quiet alert state usually has wide open eyes, and is calm and peaceful, they may even make an open mouth “ooooh” face at you. A baby who has had enough will avert her eye gaze, sometimes shield her face with her hands, squirm and fuss or even get the hiccups (especially true of preemies)…that is NOT a good time to play with your baby. Here are a few easy ideas to build into your baby’s small windows of awake and alert periods during the day.
Engaging Your Newborn in Play
- Face to Face Time: One of the first things a baby can do well is look at your face and meet your eye gaze. There is nothing more fulfilling than your baby gazing into your eyes is there? And happily, newborns at 0-3 months prefer YOUR face over anything else in their environment (except maybe lights, they like looking at those too!). So, simply holding your baby about 8-12” from your face and looking into his eyes and talking softly to him is play for a newborn baby! Easy right? You can also very slowly move your face from the center to the left and then to right side and see if your baby makes an attempt to visually follow your face. Babies at this age also may prefer black and white or high contrast patterns for visual tracking, but many toys and rattles are not yet of much interest.
- Reading: Yes! DO start reading to your baby as soon as she is born!! Trust me, your baby knows your voice and whether you simply make up your own tales or read Goodnight Moon every night before bedtime, this starts an important relationship with literacy and bedtime routines. Your baby HEARS you, he is taking it all in, and by the time he is going on one year of age he’ll be patting pictures and turning pages and maybe even trying to imitate words right along with you.
- Music/Singing: Maybe you sang or played music for your baby when she was still in the womb? But if not, start introducing singing and music from birth. There’s a reason we have lullabies, babies love them and find them soothing. And trust me, they don’t care what your voice sounds like, they just like to hear the tune and inflection of your voice. So sing songs daily, or even better you can incorporate songs with gestures such as Itsy Bitsy Spider or Wheels on the Bus because your baby will begin to communicate with gestures well before he can speak actual words to you! You can also play music for your baby on your phone, iPad or car radio to help soothe her.
- Tummy Time when Awake and Supervised: Yes, your baby spends most of his day on his back, especially if he is still sleeping up to 18 hours of his day! Tummy time while supervised and awake is the THE most important newborn play position for your baby to develop his neck and trunk (core) strength needed for holding his head up, rolling and eventually sitting, crawling and walking! If you wait until 3 months or longer to introduce tummy time your baby may dislike tummy time which in turns means you rarely place your baby on her tummy. Babies who do not get tummy time in the first 3 months and spend all their times on their backs often can exhibit developmental delays in their gross motor skills, and may develop flat spots on the back of their heads (plagiocephaly). You can place your baby on your chest as you recline and encourage her to lift her head and look at your face. You can lie on the floor face to face with your baby and encourage him to lift his head and look at your face (roll up a small towel or receiving blanket and place it under his armpits and bring his arms forward so elbows are aligned under shoulders to make this easier for him). You can carry your baby tummy down while supporting his head. These are all ways to incorporate tummy time. Tummy time often works best right after your baby awakens from a nap. Always put your baby to sleep on his back until he can safely roll in both directions.
- Cuddling/Skin-to-Skin Contact: Many parents like to “baby wear” these days and there are various devices available that allow you to keep your baby snuggled against your body while you go about your daily routines. Cuddling and snuggling with your baby promotes bonding and may calm your child. Some children enjoy being swaddled. You can also use bare skin to skin contact, which you may have heard of as Kangaroo Care. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using Kangaroo Care with your baby for hour long periods in the first 12 weeks of life and preferably longer. You can read about the many benefits of Kangaroo Care at the Cleveland Clinic Website.
Enjoy that newborn!