Amidst the constant demands of taking care of a newborn, along with the inherently sleepless nights, new parents are often eager to take advantage of those golden moments when their babies are quietly alert to bond and play. The question, though, is exactly how to do it.
Babies 0-3 months of age are often referred to as being in the “4th trimester.” During this time, babies use their senses for brain development and to learn about their new world, although many of those senses aren’t fully functioning yet. For example, newborns can only see approximately 8 to 12 inches in front of them and can’t yet focus very well.
All of this can leave parents who want to interact with their new babies at a loss for exactly how to do so. When the first of my three kids was a newbie I remember often feeling guilty about not playing with him enough. Shouldn’t I be constantly trying to engage with him rather than strapping him to my chest and doing the dishes or (gasp!) checking my email and reading a magazine? But how do I play with a baby that can’t really see or communicate with me?
What I later learned, and am trying to remember with my 4-week old-son, is that although babies this age are constantly using their senses to learn about their world, they don’t necessarily require a lot of stimulation. In fact, many of the actions that come naturally to new parents are exactly what their babies need.
Here are some of my favorite examples of easy ways to interact with newborns:
- Making Faces – Faces are one of the only things that newborns can recognize so they love it when you get all up in their grill. Lean in close when talking to your baby or, better yet, get down on the floor next to him. Whether you’re playing peek-a-boo or just making funny faces, he’ll be happy to see you.
- Mirror Play – You can also play with faces in a mirror propped up near your baby. Another idea is to take turns putting both of your faces in the mirror and then holding it up so that your baby can only see herself. See my post, Top Picks: The Best Sensory Toys for Baby, for my favorite baby mirror on the market.
- Baby Talk – “Motherese” is the style of talking naturally adopted by many parents. It’s characterized by changes in pitch and rhythm as well as an emphasis on important words and it’s great for getting babies’ attention. It’s also wonderful for language development. The easiest way parents can connect with their babies through speech is by simply narrating what’s going on. It might feel funny at first, but describing to your baby what you’re doing or what they’re looking at is a simple way to connect. As baby gets a little older and his vision improves, you can even take him on a tour around the house or the backyard while talking about all that you’re seeing and doing.
- Mimicking Their Sounds – There’s a reason babies make sounds so cute that it’s almost impossible for caregivers not to repeat them. This back and forth action of baby cooing, mom cooing back and so on is one of the earliest ways for baby to communicate. It’s also an introduction to the concept of verbal turn-taking, which is an important step in language development.
- Singing and Reading – It’s never too early to start either of these. Begin with simple, repetitive songs like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” or “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and add in guided hand movements to up the fun factor. When reading aloud to baby, look for books that have high-contrast black and white images to engage her visually as well as auditorily.
- Dangling Toys – The baby play mat is a classic for this age group but your baby will be even more engaged sitting in your lap with you dangling a toy or ribbon over her than she will lying on her back all alone. Up the ante by singing or talking to her as you slowly lower the toy into her hands and then back up into the air. This simple activity will stimulate almost all of her senses at once all while she’s interacting and bonding with you.
- Relaxing Baths and Baby Massage – Everyone loves a good bath and many babies are no exception. After all, a deep, warm bath is similar to the environment they enjoyed in the womb for nine long months. These days lots of parents are also using baby massage to connect with their newborns through touch. You can do a simple web search of the term for lots of tips on how to get started.
- Skin-to-Skin Contact – Finally, don’t forget about the many benefits of skin-to-skin contact, especially between babies and moms. This type of contact is often emphasized immediately following birth but forgotten once the family is back home. The benefits include decreases in postpartum depression as well as helping mom to produce more of the hormone oxytocin, which will help with milk let down and bonding.
Photo Credits: Getty Images
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