A New Parents Helpful Guide on How to Play With a Newborn

By  Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH | Updated - 5 March 2021

Learning how to play with a newborn is vitally important for your baby and it is never too soon to start.

In today's post, I'm going to share with you:

How to Play With A Newborn Pin

That's a lot to cover... BUT here's why I'm doing it... 

Baby expert Luiza De Souza says that 'playtime is vital for bonding, the development of your baby's motor skills and their hand-eye coordination'.

And so, I wanted to create a resource for new parents to know exactly how to help their little ones develop and how to create a lifelong bond with their precious baby!

Now... I know what you're thinking...

"But my baby doesn't look at me or respond to me... Why should I play with him?"

In the beginning, you baby will not respond to you as you might like... They'll stare off into space and will not show much interest at all...

BUT I promise you this!

Your baby is taking in EVERYTHING you say, do and show to them.

In the early days, newborn babies learn through sight, sound and touch, meaning YOU are their best plaything...

...Your facial expressions, the sound of your voice and the feel of your comforting touch are all ways in which your newborn will start to learn about the world around them.

Newborn babies will not respond to you with cooing and babbling like older babies do just yet, but don't be put off! 

Trust in the fact that baby stimulation at this age is very important and that your little one is taking it all in.

Playing with your newborn is the beginning of establishing a lifelong connection with your baby.

Why is play important?

From the moment your baby is born they are starting a developmental journey that, for the first few years of life, sees the most rapid growth physically, emotionally and cognitively that the human body experiences throughout its ENTIRE lifetime.

While the physical developments that your baby undergoes such as gaining weight and developing muscles that enable them to hold up their head and grasp objects, there are more subtle emotional and cognitive developmental growths occurring too.

Playing with and engaging with your newborn is essential to all aspects of your baby’s development.

  • Talking and singing to your baby creates a loving bond and sows the seed for language development.
  • Holding and cuddling your baby makes them feel safe and loved.
  • Introducing them to the world around them by showing them books with clear patterns encourages visual and language development.
  • Tummy time will strengthen shoulder and neck muscles in preparation for sitting.
  • Play gyms and mobiles will help with physical and visual development.

Your baby will respond to all of the above with a mixture of obvious and less obvious ways…

BUT whatever the reaction... 

It is important to keep offering your new baby a stimulating and loving environment as, at this point, connections are forming in their brain that will eventually promote a response later on. 

5 Skills Parents Need To Make Newborn Play Fun For You Both

These are my top 5 skills that you need to have as a parent to make the most of newborn play!

1. Start Slowly

The first thing to remember when you are looking for things to play with a newborn is that your baby learns to connect to the feel of your touch, the sound of your voice and the sight of your face as you give them comfort, feed them and take care of them. 

When it comes to understanding how to play with a newborn, it is important to remember that what constitutes play is sometimes NOT what you would consider play in the conventional sense.

Multisensory play is the key for this newborn stage and it will lay the groundwork for their emotional, physical and cognitive development. 

For instance, just making eye contact with your little one and talking to your baby are perfect ways to start engaging and playing with your newborn. 

Singing to your baby while you change their nappy is play for a newborn, as is talking to your baby as you hold them walking around a room pointing out what you see in the world around them. 

Although they can not yet focus that well on objects, for a newborn just listening to your voice will be stimulating for them and bonding for you both.

2. Remain Patient

Newborn babies respond slowly to stimulation at first, so you need to be patient. 

When you first wave a rattle in front of them and you get no response...

DON’T GIVE UP! 

One day you will be rewarded with a reaction, but it may take a little while. 

When you are talking to your baby, pause and give them the opportunity to respond. You will notice that they will eventually try to make a sound and when they do, mimic it back to them.

Think of all these newborn activities as an investment in the future and keep in mind that your baby's brain is developing all the time and taking in everything that you say and do.

3. Focus On Your Baby

It is important to pay attention to your baby when you are interacting with them, as all babies are different and you need to assess what your baby likes and what they do not, which can be quite tricky when they are newborn.

Therefore, I would suggest keeping play gentle and slow for the early weeks, as your baby adjusts to being out in the world. 

For instance, when introducing a rattle to your baby, shake it gently at first and for short periods of time, as too much vigorous shaking may be overwhelming. 

Talk quietly and softly as you look into their eyes, cuddle them and focus your attention on their face and slowly (but surely!) you will begin to get small responses.

4. Be Creative

In the early days, your 'playtime' with your newborn is limited to those short periods in between feeding and sleeping, but they can be very valuable moments. 

Click Here to jump to some creative activities for newborns.

5. Be Present

Hold your baby in different ways so they get to see the world around them and offer them different things to look at. 

Put down that phone, turn off the TV, explore your home and garden and be 100% there and present.

When should you start playing with a newborn?

You should start playing with your newborn from the moment they arrive into the world! 

Listening to you talking and singing is play to a newborn. Watching your face is also play, so pull funny faces and make different sounds. 

You can even start showing your baby simple books and toys in the early weeks, they will be taking it all in and processing it.

How much should you play with a newborn?

The amount of time that your newborn can spend playing, varies from child to child. 

Some newborns are quite sleepy, while some are just born more alert and ready to take everything in.

Most newborns, however, will only manage between 10-20 minutes of play and many will only manage a couple of minutes. 

THE TRICK IS... to start slowly and see what your little one can manage. 

The time your baby spends awake and alert will increase naturally with age.

How do you play with a newborn baby: 10 Newborn Play Ideas!

Many parents think that you have to dedicate time to play with your newborn. 

However, that is NOT the case. 

Playing with a newborn should be spontaneous, fun, gentle, loving and enjoyable for both baby and parent. 

Here are a few newborn play ideas to get you both playing together!

Check Out Teething To Tantrums Youtube Channel here!

1. Nappy Changing Time

Nappy changing time offers a great opportunity for newborn play as you sing, chat or play a simple game.

2. Bath Time 

Bath time is another great playtime activity for a newborn, and as you gently squeeze water over your baby's tummy from a sponge and talk encouragingly, they kick and splash in the water with delight!

3. Take them outside

On a lovely summer's day, take newborns outside and put them under a tree to look up at the dappled shapes while you talk to them. 

Although they can not focus clearly at this stage, your newborn will be taking it all in!

4. Play Music

Playing music is another great newborn activity and you don't need to just stick to nursery rhymes and lullabies either. 

Play all sorts of music from classical to jazz, but keep it calm and soothing.

5. ‘Baby Cycling’

Lay your baby on a blanket and help them get moving.  

Gently hold their hands and move their arms up and down and around, hold onto their feet and pedal their legs. 

You can also tickle and massage their feet all over.

6. Entertain with Everyday Objects

Make use of everyday objects, for instance, jiggling a set of keys or a bangle will be highly entertaining for your newborn.

7. You!

You are the best toy for your newborn, especially in the early days. 

By smiling, sticking out your tongue, blowing raspberries, singing or just talking you are entertaining your newborn. 

Instead of a rattle use your hand and wiggle your fingers in front of their face and move it slowly around. 

They will be fascinated by it all and it will be stimulating their tiny brain to learn.

Remember that, despite little to no reaction to all of these things, your baby is benefiting enormously and one day you will be rewarded with a lovely baby smile and the first gurgling of baby delight.

8. Tummy Time

You can introduce tummy time from as early as 2 weeks of age but, at this stage, only for around 30 seconds to 1 minute at a time.

Little and often is the key at this early stage. 

The best place to start is by placing your newborn face down on your chest as then they are rewarded with your face when they look up. 

After a nappy change is also an ideal opportunity to have a quick tummy time minute BUT avoid tummy time immediately after a feed. 

Some babies are happy to lie on their tummy across your lap as you rub their back. 

By introducing these early doses of tummy time your baby may take to longer periods of tummy activity when they are older.

Tummy time is important for your baby's physical development as it helps to strengthen your baby's neck, shoulders, back and arms as well as their legs.

Baby's spend an awful lot of time on their backs in the first months, so it is important that they have regular tummy time to help them learn to lift their head, roll over and eventually sit up.

Tummy time will also help to prevent the flat spot that some babies develop on the back of their head.

As they grow...

By 2 months old, you can aim for three lots of 5-minute tummy time sessions a day on a flat soft surface. 

Tummy play mats are great for this stage as they give your baby something interesting to feel and interact with. 

Your voice and encouragement as you get down to their level to talk and entertain them will also help to sustain tummy time. 

Don't force things, as good quality tummy time little and often is better than an extended period of tummy time with an unhappy infant.

From the age of around 3-4 months, tummy time will become a regular part of your daily routine and your baby should be able to manage about 20-minute sessions. 

Even if your little one is still not embracing this activity, there are things you can do to make it more interesting for them. 

By 4 months your baby should be able to lift their chest off the floor and lean on their elbows with their head upright. You may then start to notice your baby reaching out to these toys. 

This will allow them to look at objects such as tummy time books or tummy time mirrors that will help to keep them entertained and motivated. 

Mirrors are great for newborns as they will be fascinated by their own image!

9. Reading Out Loud

Another great way to play and interact with your newborn is to read to them. 

As you will learn from my blog post 'When to Start Reading to Baby' it is never too early to introduce your little one to the wonderful world of books. 

Not only does it establish a habit of a lifetime, but it is also bonding and hugely beneficial to your baby's development. 

Your newborn loves the sound of your voice and listening to you read aloud will be comforting and fascinating for them. 

There are some wonderful books for newborns in black, white and bold colours for you to share with them, but you could also just read aloud from any book to keep them entertained.

10. Peek-a-Boo

Peek-a-boo is a lovely first game that will be popular with your young baby and one which they will never tire of as they grow. 

The first peek-a-boo game you can play is by putting your hands over your face and opening them up to reveal your smiling face saying “peek-a-boo!”

Later you can drape a soft muslin over your baby's face and pull it off their face and say peek-a-boo too. 

This is a game that your baby will never tire of and as they grow you will be rewarded with baby giggles of joy each time you say “peek-a-boo!”

Dealing with developmental delays

All babies are individuals who develop at their own individual rates. 

It is hard to pinpoint a developmental delay in a newborn as babies start to respond to the world around them in their own unique way. 

Some will be sleepy and hard to engage with at first, while others will be very alert and seem to be watching out for anything new.

There are, however, things that you would expect a newborn to do in the early weeks, that would indicate that they are developing normally.

By one month old, your baby should start to respond to sounds by turning their head towards the source. 

They should also start to coo back at you when you talk to them and make gurgling sounds. 

They will also start to track a moving object but forget it once it is out of sight and begin to move their arms and legs with little to no coordination.

If you feel your baby is not responding as they should to sound and visual stimulation or they are particularly lethargic in their movements, then consult a medical professional who will be able to set your mind at rest or conduct some tests to see if any specialised action is necessary.

Toys For Newborns

From about 6-8 weeks old your baby will begin to enjoy and interact with simple toys. 

There are some lovely age-appropriate toys and books you can introduce to your baby at this stage. 

Black and white toys or ones with strong contrasting colours and patterns are ideal as they are easier to focus on. 

As your baby's vision improves they will begin to react more and more to these early toys. Toys that offer sensory stimulation and are interesting to look at, feel and listen to are ideal.

Here Are Some Suggestions For You.....

  • Simple Wooden Rattles 
  • Rattle Socks
  • Wrist And Foot Rattles
  • Hanging Baby Toys And Rattles For Cribs And Strollers
  • Textured Toys
  • Cot Mobile
  • Soft Cuddly Toy
  • A Few Keepsake and Board Books
  • Books For Tummy Time
  • Floor / Tummy Time Mirror
  • Tummy Time Play Mat
  • Bathtime Toys
12 Newborn Toy Ideas Infographic

If you’re not sure where to start, be sure to check out my Parenting Toolbox for my top recommended products or my minimalist baby registry for the must-have essentials..

A word of encouragement for playing with a newborn

When playing with your newborn, live in the moment

To begin with, the sound of your voice will be the most precious delight for your baby. 

Don’t rush things or expect too much in return. Eventually you will see your baby responding to your voice and recognising your face.

  • Be calm and start by just talking, singing and making eye contact.
  • Offer small amounts of stimulation and stop once your baby becomes tired or agitated.
  • Take one day at a time and gradually you will see new and different responses from your baby

In no time you will find that playing with your newborn will become second nature. 

Just remember to keep it simple

You are their best toy in the early days and they will love just to lie on your lap and listen to you chat away, hold their hands and have you show them simple toys.

So, The Answer To The Question Do Newborns Need Playtime?

The answer is definitely, YES, they do. 

So, even if you find it hard to imagine how your wobbly headed little bundle who only seems to want to eat and (hopefully) sleep can be interested in play... 

Remember that everything you do from gazing into their eyes as you feed them to talking to them as you change them, is contributing to their future development and forming a life long bond between you and your child. 

Never underestimate the importance of play!

Top Tip

Start slowly and build up the play sessions over time. 

Soon enough, you will be rewarded with a beautiful baby smile and babbling!

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As I mentioned in this post, if you're looking for products for your little one and you're not sure where to begin, be sure to check out my Parenting Toolbox.

Within it I have compiled all my favourite products which I've tried to ensure are all non-toxic, eco friendly, sustainable and, of course, baby proof!

Do you have any blog recommendations that you'd like me to write about? Drop me an email: [email protected] and let me know. I love hearing from you!

Thank you for your continued support!

Teething to Tantrums Author

Paula McLaren is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the childcare industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.

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