How to play with your newborn
Many parents are unsure about how to play with their newborn baby and feel awkward about ‘doing it right’. But the truth is that spending time and just making an effort goes a long way towards strengthening the bond between a parent and their child. There is no one perfect way to play; we’re all too individual for this to be true. So even if you’re having some simple face-to-face play or changing your baby’s nappy, make time for a little fun.
Appreciate that you are your baby’s greatest teacher and for a baby, play is their work.
You could be forgiven for thinking that not much is registering with your newborn, but this is far from fact. A baby’s brain is hardwired to receive as much stimulation as possible and they are very skilful at seeking engagement. It’s important to know that your baby is not reviewing your performance. You may feel they’re watching your every move, that’s because they are! But they’re not judging your parenting style, they’re just doing what they need to do by looking, listening and taking it all in.
Remember, playing with your newborn is a chance to make your relationship stronger and create an authentic bond. It’s not so much about what you do, but how you do it. Being sensitive and gentle will give your baby the message that they are safe and you care about them.
It’s the quality of the relationship between parents and their baby which is important.
10 tips for playing with your newborn
- Try to be as mindful and in the moment as you can be. Remind yourself of the mantra “just this” which can help all of us find the most simple moments of joy.
- Follow your baby’s lead. Look for their responses with smiling, cooing, eye contact with you. When they look away and start to fuss, take this as a sign that they’re ready for something new. By blowing raspberries on their tummy, poking out your tongue, and playing peekaboo you’re giving messages of fun and affection.
- Appreciate that you and your partner will play differently with your baby. You may both have your own ideas on what play is. Differences in parenting help children to learn resilience and that the world doesn’t always work in the same consistent way.
- Look for windows of play time throughout the day. You may find your baby prefers small sessions of play and interaction to longer ones.
- Take your baby outside to look around and see the world from a different viewpoint. Movement in nature is a great way to distract a small person. Take them for a pram ride or carry your baby facing outwards in a pouch.
- Try not to overstimulate your baby when they’re ready for sleep. Babies can easily become overtired which makes it harder for them to settle.
- Get down on the floor with your baby when they’re having tummy time each day. Lie or sit close to them and never feel as if they’re judging you. It’s so important for parents to enjoy these special windows of time with their baby and not always focus on the tasks of parenting.
- Learn how to massage your baby so that during their bath times, they have the opportunity for special connection. Gently stroke your baby’s arms, legs and tummy and let them practice how to hold their head up and build upper body strength.
- Put some music on and dance with your baby. Do some squats or even lunges if you’re feeling strong and hold your baby close to your body. Watch their reaction as they move with you.
- Talk and sing to your baby. Make up silly rhymes and ditties which make no sense to anyone, even yourself. You may come from a family where nicknaming is common so don’t be surprised if your baby soon has a special name (or two)! as well.
For more information about your baby’s play
Speak with your Child Health Nurse about other play ideas. There may also be a new parent’s group in your area. Meeting other parents with babies of the same age is often a good way to pick up other ideas.
Written for Tooshies by Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse, January 2023.