Contributed by Sara Bussandri, BabyNatal West London
Picture this: a 39+weeks pregnant woman, limping up and down the aisles of a toy store looking for rattles suitable from birth. Well, yes, hands up – that was me, approaching my due date and panicking because I didn’t have any toys for my baby! What was my baby going to play with? I needed toys! I needed 0+ months, colourful, squeaky toys to keep my little boy busy! Luckily I found a few and happily returned home to carry on with more crazy activities brought on by my nesting instinct!
On his due date, my baby arrived, and after we settled back at home after a day or so, I thought: “Let’s play!” So I took out the rattles I bought him and started shaking them in front of his face, just to realise that 1) he was not interested at all and 2) that he couldn’t actually hold them!
So what could my baby do? What was the best way to ‘play’ with him, and did he need to play at all? It turns out that the best ‘toys’ for our newborn babies are us (the parents) in so many beautiful ways.
The importance of spending time with baby
Believe it or not, your company is the best form of entertainment for your baby. In the first month or so of life, your baby learns mainly through interacting with you, their parent(s). They learn to associate the feel of your touch, your voice, the sight of your face and the sensation of getting all their needs met. Holding, caressing, massaging, skin-to-skin, carrying, cuddling, cooing, talking and babbling to baby whilst looking into their beautiful eyes are great hits when it comes to keeping baby entertained. Plus, they’re excellent ways of bonding with your baby so try and spend time with your newborn doing all these little things and concentrating on getting to know them from the early days, especially during those times when they are alert and seem receptive to interaction. Always watch for the baby to ‘respond’ back to you – watch how they react! If your baby seems alert, quiet, attentive, responsive and interested in their surroundings, they are ready to learn and play. When they are very active (flapping arms, kicking legs, fussing), on the other hand, they will not be focussing on you much. Also, if they turn their head away or cry, it could be a sign that they are overstimulated, so perhaps try again another time.
The importance of faces
Faces are full of baby’s favourite things: motion and sound, so your baby will gaze at faces (and especially mouth and eyes as the main points of focus) longer than at anything else. Babies’ vision at birth is not fully developed, so they can only focus on objects that are 8-10 inches (or 20-25 cm) away from their face – pretty much the distance between your face and theirs when you’re holding them in your arms! So make sure you position yourself close to your baby when talking to them. Looking at your face is great for their intellectual development – your baby will study your features, look into your eyes and try and mimic your facial expressions, so be silly and really ‘play’ with your face. Smile, stick your tongue out, raise your eyebrows… just have fun making silly faces! It will pay off when your baby will look at you and crack a smile or laugh (even though you have to wait a few weeks for that!).
Keep it calm!
There is a lot more than being silly with your face that you can do with your newborn baby, but whatever you do, make sure that in the early days you stimulate the baby’s senses in a positive way and become a source of calm and comfort for your little one. Use smiles, soothing sounds and gentle touch and try and create a nice, calm atmosphere. Beware of bright lights as they can bother your baby’s sensitive eyes. Also, too much noise can be overwhelming for baby, so better to watch out for signs of baby being overtired. Remember that your baby can only take short bites of play at each time, so if they cry, fuss, arch their back, yawn, or simply turn their gaze or head away, think about protecting the baby from all the hustle and bustle and try and calm and soothe the baby.
Other things you can do
Thought you couldn’t play much with your newborn baby? Here are some more ideas for you to try:
Skin-to-skin and massage
Babies bond mainly through smell and touch, so a great way to interact and bond with your baby is through skin-to-skin (both Mum and Dad can try it) and baby massage. Holding, caressing and massaging your baby improves their sensory awareness and their emotional development as well as the production of ‘good’ hormones, and it also teaches the baby to have trust.
Singing and music
Are you the musical type? Why not trying to sing in a sweet voice while looking deep into your baby’s eyes? Repetition is reassuring for babies, and they will love the rhythm of songs and nursery rhymes! Your baby learns about verbal and non-verbal communication through interacting and staying close to you, so put some soothing music on and sway to the music with baby in your arms.
We all enjoy a change of perspective from time to time, and your baby is no different. If they like it, place your baby on their tummy during the day at play time. Try little and often (a couple of minutes at the time) and let your baby guide you. If they don’t seem to like it, don’t force it, but if they do, it lets them see the world from a different perspective and they strengthen their upper body muscles in the process too! If you can do so comfortably, try and lay down on your tummy too, face to face with your baby and see their reaction!
Keep baby involved
Talk to your baby! You can try moving the Moses basket around the house during the day to keep the baby where you are, so they can hear you and see you going through the various activities of your day. This gives them different things around the house to look at, and even though they can’t see very well, they are fascinated by lights, shadows and things moving. If you want you can even carry the baby in a sling, wrap or carrier and keep them with you as you carry on with some light activities in the house – they will enjoy feeling involved, experiencing the sensation of movement as well as closeness to you whilst they enjoy your familiar smell.
The best toys to get for the early days
Finally, if you want to get some toys for your baby (bearing in mind that your baby cannot grab rattles yet), here are the best things you can get:
- Black and white patterns and toys (you can even get app’s on your phone for them), which stimulate your baby’s developing vision;
- Flash cards, board books with strong lines and colours, which attract the baby’s attention;
- Cot mobiles that are good to be looked at from underneath;
- Plastic crib mirrors, so that the baby can see their own reflection in them and be amused by their own facial expressions, squirms and movements. They won’t know it’s them that they’re looking at but they will enjoy it nonetheless
- For later on, think about rattles, textured toys and musical toys.
The reality of it is that your baby is only a newborn for such a small period of time and it’s great to take a moment and realise that for our babies and children, we are their favourite way to play!
Sara is a mum of two and BabyNatal teacher for West London.
Find out more about Sara on our main website here.