By Ali Weatherford

When you fantasize about being a parent for the first time, you might picture playing with your kids. Maybe you can’t wait to toss or kick a ball around. You might imagine a dollhouse and figures or teaching your kid how to use a yo-yo or skateboard.

Then you get your newborn home, and that can seem like a very far away fantasy! Newborns are very tiny. They can’t walk or talk or even control their bodies much at all. They can’t pick things up or hold onto things well yet. They even have trouble holding their heads up without help. So can you really play with a newborn? Yes! Well, sort of.

There is a lot you can do to entertain and stimulate them, and you can have fun doing it too. Play is about fun, but it’s also a way to encourage great brain and body development. Babies are growing and developing SO quickly at first! The kind of stimulation they can get from play is really helpful for making quicker and sharper neural connections and pathways in the brain.

It also might be helpful in strengthening their little body parts so they can start moving more on their own. Maybe even most importantly, remember that with babies, play time is mostly about making a very direct and focused connection. Even my big kids at 12 and 15 want to play with me, but they say it doesn’t count if I’m distracted and not really into it. They are absolutely right.

Ideas for How to Play with a Newborn

Try some yoga. One of my favorite things was “Mommy and Me” type yoga classes. These are a great way to find fun things to do with your baby that are also really beneficial for you and your physical recovery. Most of the time, it’s recommended that your baby be at least one month old before you start taking them to these classes. You can usually keep going until your baby starts to crawl. At that point, some places will also offer yoga classes appropriate for crawlers and toddlers. Those are fun too!

Infant massage is also a great way to connect and “play” with your baby. I got to attend a Baby Strokes baby massage class recently just to see what it was all about. There were two newborn babies there, and they DID seem to be having fun! This might not seem like playing to you, but some of the techniques can be really stimulating to a tiny baby and fun for you too.

Try going outside. My babies loved being outside. I would walk with them in a carrier or stroller, or I would just lay a blanket under a tree and we would look up at the sky and the leaves. Again, this can be very stimulating to a tiny baby, and it’s so fun to see their reactions to new things. To make it more interesting for you, try meeting up with some other parents and babies at a park or just change up your location occasionally. Looking for new parks and outdoor spaces can be a great way to get to know your area a little better too.

Reading aloud to your baby is something you might like to do, and it really is a great way for your baby to absorb language. Using different sounds and voices can also make it extra interesting to a little one. Even if you’re not reading to your baby, talking to your baby can be very stimulating and entertaining to them. I used to talk to my babies as if they could understand me. I would talk to them about what I was making for dinner or talk through diaper and outfit changes.

Make faces! Tiny babies might be very entertained by this. It’s a bonus if you can shake your head back and forth really fast.

Tummy time. You might hear that you’re supposed to do this, but maybe you don’t know how. Tummy time just means putting your baby down on their bellies. There are a lot of good reasons for doing this. A change of position is great. Babies get to use different muscles and work on different motor skills while they are on their bellies. A lot of babies don’t love it at first though. Start trying tummy time early on, even in the first few days of life. Keep trying a little every day, and at some point, your baby will find new things to do while on their tummy. If your baby really hates being put on the floor, try tummy time on your chest. Stay focused on your baby and participate to make it more entertaining. When you start putting your baby down on the floor, get down on the mat or blanket on your belly opposite your baby. Make eye contact and funny faces to keep the fun going for longer. You might put a favorite object or toy just out of reach and your baby might have fun trying to reach it, or just looking at it from a different angle.

Sing to your baby. I really believe they love our songs and our voices. You can also make up hand gestures or body movements that go along with the song which can make it even more interactive. For example, “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” means you make spider hands and rainfall gestures. You can even mimic a spider crawling on your baby for some tickles. If you can pick a few songs that you like to sing and that have child appropriate lyrics, your baby will start to recognize the songs and later ask for their favorites. My 12 year old actually still requests his favorite mom songs at bedtime sometimes. He says it relaxes him.

Tickles! Touching and massaging babies can be great for entertainment and bonding, but be careful about tickling. It might be true that newborns aren’t actually “ticklish”, but it’s hard to tell. They don’t really have the ability to react to things in the same way that an older baby does. It is generally recommended that you NOT tickle a baby until after six months of age. That is when they can show you if they like it or not. Just like some adults don’t like to be tickled, it’s the same for babies.

Peek-a-boo kinds of games might not be understood completely by a newborn, but you can start playing anyway. Even just your faces and hand gestures and sounds can be interesting to a newborn.

Water fun. Especially if it’s hot outside, your baby might like to be held in a small tub of cool water, or you can trickle water onto their skin. Bath time might also be a great place to play. A lot of babies LOVE the water.

Play at Home Mummy is a fun Instagram account for play ideas mostly for older babies and kids, but it’s entertaining to look around and get ideas.

Our articles are not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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