I cannot begin to tell you the amount of times I have heard “They are just babies! They eat, sleep and poop“. This phrase is used all too often and makes me feel as though some people see babies more as objects than as a human who is growing and developing cognitive function on a minute by minute basis.
A newborn or premature baby is one that is learning their senses (sight, smell, sound, taste and touch) as well as beginning to understand patterns, spatial awareness, facial recognition, cognitive function, repetition and much more. Babies learn skills and acquire information at a staggering rate and it is our job to teach them the lay of the land. This is NOT just for parents; this is for any interaction between a child, teen, adult or elderly person to a newborn baby.
Here are some fun activities to try with a newborn (0-3 months) today, so that they can develop the essential skills they need to grow and learn.
- Looking at them: Holding your baby and having the need to stare longingly into their eyes is not only for connection but also for the baby to begin to recognize your face. Moving closer to them and further away from them will help them learn to focus not only on your face, but on distance. They begin to see unique characteristics such as having a beard, glasses, hair, freckles, wrinkles, skin tone and more. Not only that, but they also begin to process emotion and mirror certain faces made at them. Try sticking your tongue out at a newborn or smiling at them – you will notice they will copy you, sometimes as early as a week old.
- Give them space: Try laying your baby down on a bed, couch or even crib (if they are used to sleeping in a bassinet). You will notice newborns tend to stretch out their hands and feet looking like they are flailing their limbs around. This is not for no reason, babies are trying to figure out where they are. They are figuring out how far they are away from something and they are developing their spatial awareness. You will find newborns younger than 6 weeks might cry out, but don’t be concerned. They are used to being held or feeling secure, so this activity might scare them at first. However, the more you try this activity the more comfortable they will get and will enjoy it soon enough. TIP: Try getting a play mat or activity center so that they will see objects above them. It will then becomes more of a sensory experience.
- Tummy time: This is an activity that is often Googled by every parent! When to start tummy time, how to start tummy time, how long do I get my baby to try tummy time; the list goes on and on. In my experience as a doula and now Mommy, I have to say that you want to begin when YOU as the parent or older person are comfortable. I would suggest starting with having the baby placed on your chest when you are doing skin to skin, between a feed, or maybe just afterwards. Start off by propping baby between your chest, the baby will then spread their arms and start kicking their feet (spatial awareness) they will then extend their neck and try to look around or up slightly to find something familiar like light or your face (facial recognition). By doing this they are lifting their necks, extending their backs and gaining strength of their back and core muscles. This activity is improving their motor skills and will eventually give them the skills needed to roll over, crawl and eventually walk – amazing right! Once you feel that your baby is ready you can try laying them on your bed. I suggest this because then you can bend down and baby can look for your face at the edge of the bed and feel more comforted. Only then, I would suggest once they feel comfortable with that, try the baby on an activity mat surrounded by their favourite toys.
- Contrast books: These fun books or cards (as show in the above photo) are great tools to blend all activities mentioned together. You can use these books while baby is in your arms, in their chair, in their swing, on their mat or while they are doing their tummy time activity. In the first few weeks and months your baby is going through various developmental leaps. The first is recognizing pattern and contrast of images. So by using these books you can vocalize what you see on the pages so they can hear you and you can express the words and language. You can bring the images closer and further away so they can gain focus. You can let baby touch the card for a sensory experience (as most contrast books make different sounds or have different textures). They also help keep focus when your baby begins to feel stressed or upset once they are getting over spending the much needed time on their bellies.
I could go on and on over many exercises in detail but these 4 are the principle concepts in getting your baby to understand how to enjoy any other activity you present to them.
Here are a few suggestions you can try with a newborn today!
-Dancing with your baby (music and sensory)
-Baby sign language (understanding cues for actions – feeding, changing diaper etc)
-Massage (body awareness / relaxation)
-Shadow play (pattern and contrast)
-Reading books (language skills and images)
Newborn babies love to play as much as they do cuddling, peeing, pooping, eating and sleeping. However, knowing how and why to play with them is giving them the essentials to grow and expand their mind. I hope one of these activities will be helpful to you and your family!
xo – Natalya