How to Play With a Newborn

Engaging With Your New Baby

You adore her. You're so grateful she's here. Life will never be the same. But, wow, your newborn can be boring. When your baby isn't even able to hold up her head, playing with her may feel like a one-sided endeavor. And while it's true that you may not get a ton out of the experience, playing with your newborn is important for development. Stimulation helps keep her awake, which encourages her to sleep for longer periods overnight. She also builds her first language and cognitive skills through play, so embrace it.

Setting Up Playtime

Newborn white baby sleeping with mother in white sheets

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As long as you're gentle and safe (more on that in a minute), there's no wrong way to play with your newborn. The goal is to stimulate her body and mind and to strengthen your bond. Do get close to your baby for playtime. Newborns are still learning to focus their eyes and coordinate the movements of both eyes. If you're farther than a foot from her face and moving a lot, she'll have a hard time seeing you clearly.

Tummy time presents the perfect opportunity for some playtime. Engaging her while she's on her tummy motivates her to lift her head, strengthening her neck and trunk. Some newborns hate tummy time, so playing with her may distract her from any discomfort.

At other times, you may want to place her on her back on a blanket, or sit on a couch or bed with your knees bent in front of you, with your newborn resting against your knees so you're face to face.

Activities to Try

You're at least a few years away from having to use special voices or improvise creative stories to keep your child entertained. For now, the stakes are much lower. Do narrate everything you're doing, though. You might feel silly saying something like, "And now I'm touching your cheek," but she won't judge you.

Your face is a source of great interest to your newborn. Make a variety of expressions, holding each one for a few seconds, so she can see what you're doing. Slowly move your face closer to her; then slowly pull it back. Tip your head from side to side and play round after round of peekaboo.

Play with music, too. Put on songs that you listened to a lot while you were pregnant or sing lullabies to her. While standing, hold your newborn, and carefully dance or sway in time to the music.

Colorful, noisy toys are appropriate for a newborn, although she may not yet have the coordination to reach for them. Hold toys about 8 inches in front of her face so she can see them clearly. Let her hold the toys if she reaches for them. Brush her toys against her skin so she can feel the texture. Do the same thing with a variety of textured items, like a silky blanket or a rough piece of burlap.

Involving an Older Child

Newborn white baby sleeping with mother in white sheets

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A toddler or older child can absolutely participate in newborn playtime. Ask your older child to "read" his favorite books out loud to her or introduce his stuffed animals to her. He can also sing songs to her, gently rub her tummy or back, and simply talk and make faces at her. Playtime is the perfect chance to talk to him about how to be safe and gentle with his new baby sibling.

Newborn Play Safety

Be careful to keep your newborn in a comfortable and supported position at all times. Don't manipulate her body by clapping her hands together or pretending to stomp her feet. If those movements hurt, she can't tell you to stop. Remember to support her neck when she's upright.

Supervise her at all times, especially if an older child is around. Even gentle toddlers can easily hurt a newborn by accident. While you're down on the floor with her, look around for any objects that pose a safety hazard. Soon, she'll be able to move on her own, and her space should be thoroughly baby-proofed first.