11 Fun And Engaging Ways To Play With Your Newborn Baby

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How to play with a newborn is a common question that crosses the minds of almost every first-time parent. Several options may overwhelm you, but don’t let them deter you or cause you to make hasty choices.

Playing with a newborn is an important activity that you should initiate at the right time with age-appropriate, baby-safe toys or props. Indulging in playful activities offers a newborn stimulus to exercise their skills. Besides, a happy playtime gives you and your baby enough time to bond with each other.

Keep reading to know about when you can start playing with a newborn, how long you should play, and how to play with a newborn.

When Should You Start Having Playtime With Your Newborn?

You may play with the newborn from the moment you bring them home for the first time (1). If your baby is alert and awake, you may place them on their tummy to initiate their first playtime. You may talk to them by using exaggerating head movements and face pulling. Your baby may be fascinated and want to join in. You may keep the tummy time short; three to five minutes per session, two to three times per day.

Place a toy in front of the baby or sit in front of them during tummy time. Remember to interact with them as much you can to make playtime stimulating for the baby.

You can use your facial expressions as a game at any angle. Facing your baby while they are lying down on their back or in front of you in their chair or being held. The benefit of face games are they are always available, and cost nothing.

What Are The Benefits Of Play For Newborns?

Playtime is one of the essential activities for a newborn since it expands and strengthens the neural networks of the baby’s developing brain (2). Children experience rapid brain development during infancy, and play is an excellent way to support it. Besides, it helps in the baby’s overall cognitive and physical development, facilitating the timely achievement of various developmental milestones.

Below are the various benefits of play for newborns (3) (4)

  • Keeps the baby’s mind active, supports cognitive development and develops autonomy
  • Helps baby understand the world and objects through cause and effect
  • Improves muscular dexterity, improving posture in the long run
  • Makes bones, muscles, and joints stronger
  • Supports development of social skills
  • Stimulates language development and communication skills
  • Develops various senses, including sight and hearing

How Much Should You Play With A Newborn?

There is no fixed duration for the time you may spend playing with your newborn. The World Health Organization recommends about 30 minutes of tummy time play per day for babies younger than 12 months  (5). Nevertheless, this could vary based on the baby’s interests, age, and achieved developmental milestones.

The most important thing is to remember to play as long as you feel happy and playful. The joy will spread to your baby. Playtime should not be a chore but a shared enjoyable activity.

When playing with the baby, you may look for the following signs that suggest the baby needs a break from play.

  • Turning away from the toy or source of stimulation
  • Falling asleep in the middle of the play activity
  • Showing fussiness or crying when encouraged to play
  • Showing disinterest in play while sucking at their thumb, suggesting they might be hungry

Tips And Ideas For Newborn’s Playtime

You may convert simple activities into games for the baby’s playtime. You may also use toys to encourage the baby to play often. Below are some suggestions, tips, and ideas for the newborn’s playtime (6).

  1. Begin with tummy time: The American Academy of Pediatrics state that the baby must be on their back for sleep and tummy for play. Tummy time strengthens the baby’s muscles and conditions their muscles for several physical development milestones. You may start with tummy time right from day one. In the long run, it could promote gross motor skills and improve the baby’s control of the head, neck, and limbs.
  1. Try activities that stimulate their senses: Newborns love activities that stimulate their senses (7). Pick a game that stimulates their senses. For instance, peek-a-boo is a great game to exercise the baby’s vision and object permanence skills. Make a puppet out of a sock, place it on your hand, and pretend that it is talking to the baby to stimulate their auditory skills. Bring objects with different textures and place them close to the baby. Let them touch, feel, and experience various textures.
  1. Play together with toys: Toys could play a vital role in stimulating the baby’s imagination, social, and communication skills (8). Pick toys that let the newborn experiment with cause and effect. A rattle could help the baby learn that some objects make noise when shaken. A squeeze toy could fascinate the baby when it returns to its original shape when the pressure is released.
  1. Talk and be interactive: Research indicates that when parents play with their babies, they synchronize their neural activity with that of their baby (9). This neural synchrony may boost the functions of the baby’s neural pathways and improve their cognitive development. Articulate words clearly and maintain eye contact when playing and speaking to the baby. Let the baby study your face, watch your lips move, and see your expressions. When the baby tries to respond, show your enthusiasm by smiling wide or clapping and cuddling the baby. This encourages the baby to keep trying.
  1. Sing and dance with the baby: Singing to the baby could have several benefits, including improving their bond with parents and even stimulating language development (10). A baby recognizes the mother’s voice way before they recognize her face. You may sing any nursery rhyme or children’s song. Make sure you smile and maintain eye contact with the baby. You may also hold the baby’s hands and clap to the rhythm as if dancing together. Holding the baby securely in your arms and dancing in gentle motions is also a great way to play with the newborn.
  1. Try mirror activities: Babies enjoy looking at their reflections, and a baby-safe, unbreakable mirror could make a great toy for a newborn (11). Place the mirror in front of the baby and let them look at their reflections. Prompt them with questions, such as “Who is that?.” Dress and change the baby’s diapers in front of the mirror. The mirror is a great way to teach the baby that objects exist even if they cannot see them.
  1. Read to the baby: Expose your baby to language by reading out loud from storybooks. Board books with big, colorful pictures are great for the read-and-show type of activities. Even if your baby is young, remember to point at characters and say their names aloud. Experts believe that newborn babies may pay more attention to happy sounds (12). Therefore, try reading out funny stories with plenty of laughs and smiles.
  1. Introduce the baby to new environments: Exposure to new sights, sounds, smells, and even people stimulates brain development in babies (7). Take your baby outdoors at least once a day. If it is not possible to do so, make sure you sit with them in front of the window or on the balcony for at least 30 minutes a day. Point at different objects and draw the baby’s attention to different sounds to stimulate their cognitive function.
  1. Imitate and make sounds: Make interesting sounds, such as the chirping of the birds or other sounds the baby hears, to grab the little one’s attention. The baby realizes that you can make different sounds, and they may try to imitate you. You may also make noise with other items, such as toys or plates and spoons. Listening to different sounds is a great way to familiarize the baby with certain types of sounds.
  1. Play games with clothes: There are several games you may play with clothes while doing laundry and looking after your newborn. Peek-a-boo is perhaps is the best example. Some other games you may try include pretending to fold clothes with the baby or hiding several pieces of clothing behind one another to reveal them with a surprise.
  1. Perform massages and assisted exercises: Since newborns are not very mobile, you may incorporate assisted physical movements and exercises. Place the baby on their back and perform bicycling motion with their legs, twist their legs to the sides, and move their feet to touch their forehead. Remember to be gentle and not push the baby’s limbs too hard. You may also massage them periodically to stimulate their physical development. Lay the baby on their back to massage their belly, and later massage their backs during tummy time. You may use a baby massage oil to help you massage the baby better. You may learn more about various massage techniques here.

You must play with your newborn baby frequently as it stimulates their brain and assists in developing their cognitive and motor skills. Engage your little one to play when they are awake. You may use an age-appropriate toy to grab their attention, but remember that maximum interaction is the key to getting your baby invested in these plays. Try engaging in different activities with your baby at appropriate times. You may start small and let them get used to the games before they turn complex. Above all, have fun with your tiny tot and utilize this playtime to bond with them.

Key Pointers

  • You can begin playing with newborns once they are brought home after delivery.
  • Playtime for newborns keeps the baby’s mind active, develops social skills, and strengthens their bones, muscles, and joints.
  • WHO recommends 30 minutes of tummy time play for children below 12 months of age.
  • Trying activities that stimulate the senses, such as singing and dancing with them and imitating them, are a few effective ideas to engage babies in play.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Back to Sleep, Tummy to Play; American Academy of Pediatrics
2. The Importance of Play; University of Georgia
3. Physical activity and exercise for children; Pregnancy, Birth, and Baby
4. Physical activity birth to 1 year; Australian Government
5. To grow up healthy, children need to sit less and play more; WHO
6. Simple Ways to Entertain & Boost Your Baby’s Development at Home; American Academy of Pediatrics
7. Physical Activity with Infants; Alabama Department of Public Health
8. Kevin Zoromski, Playing with a variety of toys leads to appropriate growth for girls and boys; Michigan State University
9. Liz Fuller-Wright, Baby and adult brains ‘sync up’ during play; Princeton University
10. Jill Suttie, Why Parents Sing to Babies; Greater Good Magazine
11. Mirror, mirror on the wall; Australian Government
12. Marieve Corbeil, Sandra E. Trehub, and Isabelle Peret, Speech vs. singing: infants choose happier sounds; U.S. National Library of Medicine
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Kay Lakka

(MSc )
Kay Lakka is the founder of Londontherapy, a busy psychological practise in the center of London. She holds a BSc (hons) in psychology and MSc in the psychodynamics of human development and has numerous post graduate diplomas including advanced psychotherapy, guidance through dreams and psychosexual relationship counselling.  Also a doula and hypnobirthing teacher, Kay is a registered member of UKCP,... more

Rohit Garoo

Rohit Garoo is a zoologist-botanist turned writer with over 8 years of experience in content writing, content marketing, and copywriting. He has also done an MBA in marketing and human resources and worked in the domains of market research and e-commerce. Rohit writes topics related to health, wellness and development of babies. His articles featured on several notable websites, including... more