Your beautiful newborn baby is like a sponge, soaking up every new experience and learning and developing every day. That’s why, even when they are tiny, it’s a good idea to set aside some time each day for play. It will help you to bond and will be a welcome reminder that having a baby is about love and fun, not just nappies and sleepless nights.
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While they’ll grow to love their teddy in time, in the early days their favourite ‘toy’ is you. Studies show that babies respond to faces more than any other visual stimuli. Your baby may try to mirror your expressions in the early months; try sticking your tongue out at them and see what happens! Talking and singing to your baby and making faces and smiling at them are all simple ways to build emotional connections and communication skills1.
Physical contact provides a playful opportunity for your baby to discover the world around them. Move their legs and arms gently and use massage to soothe them. Your baby loves your touch, so picking them up and rocking them gently will help to strengthen the emotional bond between you – especially if you do it ‘skin-to-skin’.
At birth, your baby can only see around 8–10 inches2, which is enough to see your face as you breastfeed them. Their eyesight develops surprisingly slowly. By three months they may be able to follow objects with their eyes and, incredibly, colour vision is not fully developed until around five months. Buy books and toys designed to stimulate young babies – they contain high-contrast black and white imagery.
It is never too early to sing to your baby. Speaking or singing in a playful, high-pitched, sing-song style is known as ‘parentese', and seems to come instinctively to many parents. Lullabies like ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ have been used by generations to soothe and entertain, and songs like ‘Old McDonald Had a Farm’ lay the foundations for early language skills, although you are unlikely to hear a ‘moo’ or a ‘quack’ until they are at least seven months old. Talking to your baby is also good for their communication skills, and you may enjoy reading them stories. Your baby finds your voice particularly comforting as they recognise the sound from before they were born.
Skin-to-skin contact is brilliant for bonding, as is baby massage and gentle tickling. ‘This Little Piggy Went to Market’ and other games with fingers and toes help babies develop an awareness of different levels of pressure. Stroking your baby gently with different types and textures of soft fabrics, blowing raspberries on their tummy and playing splashing games in the bath are all opportunities to learn about the sensation of touch through play.
Sensory toys for babies
- Mobiles on their cot or changing table provide hours of mesmerising entertainment
- ‘Baby gyms’ are a safe way for your baby to play and will introduce different sights, sounds and textures to encourage their development
- Handheld toys such as rattles, soft toys, teething rings and cloth books are all tactile means of stimulating development
- Save playtime for daytime, so as not to overstimulate your baby before bed, and have fun.
- Pick a regular time when your baby is awake and alert to spend some quality time having fun together. Newborns are easily tired, so 10 minutes can be enough in the early days.
- Look out for local baby massage classes or other activities designed for mum and new baby bonding like ‘baby yoga’ – it can be a good way to meet other mums too.
- If you have a leisure centre with a baby pool locally, try taking them swimming – most babies love the sensation as long as they don’t get too cold. Babies don’t need to be vaccinated to go swimming.
- Playtime doesn’t have to be complicated, a stroll around the park or to the shops is fascinating for babies at this age as long as you interact with them as you go.
- Get your partner involved in playtime – it’s a chance for them to bond.
1. Meltzoff AN, Moore KM. Imitation of facial and manual gestures by human neonates. Science 1977;198(4312):75-8.
2. AOA. Infant vision: Birth to 24 months of age [Online]. Available at: http://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/good-vision-throughout-life/childrens-vision/infant-vision-birth-to-24-months-of-age?sso=y [Accessed: January 2017].
Last reviewed: 9th December 2016
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