Playing with your baby is important for cognitive and social development, but you’re probably wondering how to play with a newborn. Check out our best tips.
Despite the sleep deprivation and lack of time for basic personal hygiene, life with a newborn is fascinating, humbling, enlightening, and so rewarding… and also hard.
As my son Griffin’s newborn slumber started to wear off and he had bigger stretches of “alert” time, I found myself wondering how to play with a newborn. We couldn’t play Candyland or watch a Disney film together—that seemed like light years away—so I was a little nervous about how to connect with him.
That’s where you came to the rescue. This list of meaningful ways to play with a newborn was generated by all my natural mama friends on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. And with the help of baby Griffin, we brought the top 10 activities for newborns to life below.
How to play with a newborn
1. Make eye contact
Gazing into your newborn’s eyes is one of the simplest ways to bond with your baby. It teaches him to recognize faces and expressions—and that different facial expressions communicate various feelings. Researchers say there are additional benefits, too. The simple act of locking eyes can actually alter babies brain waves and encourage communication between parent and child.
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Whether you’re musically gifted or not, singing to your baby not only helps him learn the sound of your voice, but it also helps him learn to communicate. When you sing, your baby is absorbing everything you say, learning about words, the language you speak, and how feelings are expressed through spoken word. Plus, singing is a great way to soothe a crying baby. In a study published in the journal Infancy, babies who listened to audiotapes of someone singing remained calm for twice as long as babies who listened to someone talking.
Babies recognize the voice much, much earlier than they recognize a mother’s face,” says researcher Sandra Trehub (source).
There’s good reason to turn on some tunes and dance like nobody’s watching, even though babies eyes will be on you. A 2014 study suggests that dancing with your baby is one of the best activities for newborns, since it may actually help you raise a kinder and more compassionate child (source). “One theory is that when people move in similar ways to us, we see them as being similar to us, so we’re more likely to consider them friends,” says Laurel Trainor, PhD, professor of psychology at McMaster University, and author of the study.
4. Try baby games
If you’re wondering how to play with a newborn when he can’t even grasp building blocks yet, you’ll want to try some of the most simple baby games out there. Think: this little piggy, blowing raspberries, peek-a-boo, and patty cake. Even simple actions like bicycling babies legs or making faces at him count as baby games. Despite the simplicity, these activities for newborns will stimulate his senses and help develop both social and motor skills (source).
5. Give baby a massage
Affectionate touch and rhythmic movement are among the most powerful forms of communication between babies and their parents, so they’re great ways for you to bond,” says K. Mark Sossin, PhD, director of the Parent-Infant Research Nursery at Pace University, in New York City (source).
In addition to the more obvious emotional benefits to touch, studies have shown that giving your baby a full-body massage is a great way to interact with a newborn—it can reduce crying and irritability, improve sleep, and alleviate gas and other symptoms often associated with colic.
As if you needed another excuse to sneak in some snuggle time, studies show that hugging could improve baby’s health. Bonding with baby by doling out extra hugs may stabilize their heart rate and body temperature, increase oxygen levels, encourage weight gain, improve sleep, and lower stress. There’s even evidence that more hugs between baby and parent can reduce your stress level, too (source)!
7. Do skin-to-skin
Also known as “kangaroo care,” skin-to-skin contact is one of the best ways to bond with baby—well beyond those first few minutes after delivery. When a naked or diapered baby is placed directly on mom’s chest it supports breastfeeding and promotes milk production, it regulates baby’s temperature, reduces stress for both mom and baby, and supports brain development. Both parents should consider this activity for newborns, since kangaroo care has bonding benefits for dads, too.
8. Give kisses
You probably don’t need any reminders to give your baby extra kisses, but here’s one anyway: Adults who received more affection from their mothers when they were infants had markedly lower levels of anxiety (source).
9. Stick your tongue out and have baby mimic
While you might want to discourage this later, right now you and baby can have a lot of fun sticking your tongue out at one another. It’s a great newborn baby game, because the simple action is one of the easiest facial expressions for your newborn to mimic—some babies can repeat the action as early as one month of age (source).
Though it may feel futile to read to a newborn when they’re gazing in another direction entirely, there’s reason to continue. Even if your baby doesn’t appear to be paying much attention, they’re likely reaping the benefits of story time. (See the best books for baby’s first library.) Research shows that reading to a baby can promote bonding and literacy. Your newborn will eventually begin to pick up on changes in tone and inflection that will teach him about language and reading on his own as well as the fact that different sounds and tones are used to convey certain emotions and feelings (source).
How About You?
Did we miss anything? Leave a comment if you’ve got another idea.