As soon as your baby enters the world, they’re learning. In fact, according to research published by Harvard’s Center on Developing Child, in the first few years of life, they develop more than one million new neural connections per second.
From now until kindergarten, your baby’s brain is developing more rapidly than it will for the rest of their lives and playtime helps this development. But don’t stress: the best ways to play with your newborn don’t require toys or fancy gear. They’re probably things you’re already doing, so good job!
Here are some of the easiest ways to play with your newborn.
Look at Them
Seriously, just put their face within 8-15 inches of yours and make eye contact. Babies love to look at faces, even their own (hence, the multitude of mirror baby toys available). Try making faces like sticking out your tongue to see if your baby will start to mimic you.
Plus, looking into your baby’s face is surely one of the biggest rewards in those first weeks of parenthood.
Talk to Them
Talking to your baby also aids in their brain development. Your baby recognizes your voice and is comforted to hear it. “Babies can tell the difference between the voices of their parents and others,” according to HealthyChildren.org. You may notice your baby turns their head towards the sound of your voice.
Talking to babies doesn’t come naturally for everyone, so try singing, reading books, or narrating the world around you. You’ll get used to their end of the conversation being only gurgles and coos.
So much of newborn learning is about gaining trust and understanding security. “Infants spend the first year learning to feel secure about being loved,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics resource HealthyChildren.org. You can’t snuggle your newborn baby too much. But if you need your hands free, try wearing your baby to give you more freedom while still providing snuggle benefits.
Commit to Tummy Time
OK, this one takes a little more practice and patience, especially if you have a baby who resists tummy time. To help your baby understand tummy time as part of their daily routine, try to start soon after you come home from the hospital. At first, you can begin with 2-3 minutes at a time, a few times throughout the day. The best time of day to try is when they are alert, have a clean diaper, and were recently fed.
Tummy time doesn’t always need to be done on a mat on the floor; you can also experiment with different hold positions that still strengthen the important muscles your baby will later use for rolling, crawling, and more.
Karen Munger, MSPT, a physical therapist specializing in pediatrics from the Center for Physical Rehabilitation, suggests laying them on your chest if you’re reclining on the couch. “That way, their muscles are still doing the work, but they may be happier being held,” Munger said. If so, refer to the “Snuggle Them” section above.
Want more ideas? Read ‘How to Play With Your Newborn and Why It Matters’