Newborns are boring. They can’t play, laugh or even move around. Their daily schedules basically revolve around eating, sleeping and pooping and not much else. But according to experts, newborns can still get bored and lonely if they receive limited interaction and/or minimal stimulation of their senses.
While it may seem like newborns are little more than uncomprehending, squirming lumps, this statement couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, the way a parent interacts and engages with their newborn can affect the outcome of their entire future. The recently hyped term “infant stimulation” is buzz-worthy and for good reason. When done correctly, it can help a newborn make giant strides in their development process.
Many parenting behaviors thought to be cheesy and annoying actually serve a higher purpose. They are often considered to be instinctual - nature’s way of ensuring parent and baby engage and ultimately bond with one another. That said, it doesn’t mean babies must be stimulated during their every wakeful moment. They actually require downtime where they are awake yet peaceful. This will give them a chance to process their surroundings and any stimuli new to their senses.
A brand spanking new infant only has a limited amount of time per day where they are alert. Be sure not to squander this brief window. Instead, embrace this prime opportunity to play and communicate meaningfully with them. Continue reading for 15 scientifically-proven ways to engage with a newborn.
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According to renowned American pediatrician and parenting expert Dr. William Sears, “Baby wearing does good things for babies and makes life easier for mothers.” Baby wearing may sound like a hot new fashion trend, but honestly, it’s the perfect way for a parent to hold a baby close while leaving their hands free for other matters.
Keeping a baby close in a wearable sling, wrap or front carrier allows a busy parent to still enjoy some up close and personal snuggle time while getting things done. Even if not completely focussed on baby, this close physical contact is reassuring to them. They can hear their parent’s voice (even if talking to someone else) and will pick up on their emotions as well.
If a baby seems upset, nervous or afraid, cuddling them close in a wearable carrier is the perfect way to offer them some stress relief. And when bundled up close, both parent and baby will share a similar point of view of the world which is an amazing yet simple way to bond.
14 Say Cheese
Often one look at a baby brings out uncontrollable smiles in anyone nearby. Again, this is thought to be a human instinct meant to aid in bonding and forming an attachment between baby and parent.
Even if a person’s face-splitting grin is only met with a glassy blank gaze, don’t underestimate the power behind that smile. Babies love and enjoy face time - especially a face-to-face connection with their primary caregiver(s) with direct eye contact and smiles.
A smile is basic communication from parent to baby, letting them know that everything is copacetic. It makes them feel safe and secure within the rapidly expanding framework of their world. A baby only has a parent’s face to provide them with cues about the outside and what it entails. Their parents’ facial expressions are what guide them through, letting them know that they are loved and protected.
Smiling is also the base ingredient in developing healthy relationships with others. When a baby takes in a smiling face, they are being introduced to socializing and silently learning how to develop a solid relationship with another person.
13 Where's The Action?
Often there’s nothing more that a new parent would like to do than sit and watch their baby’s every delicate yawn and sneeze for hours on end. But for anyone who’s been there and done that, there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Luckily, there are several short cuts for parents who are looking to engage their baby but can’t focus 100 percent of their attention on them.
Set baby up in whatever area of the house gets the most action. Whether the kitchen or family room, if it’s the room where everyone seems to congregate and things tend to happen, put baby in their bouncy chair or bassinet and allow them to enjoy the chaos.
This is the easiest way for parents to keep baby occupied while they go about their regular day. With the phone ringing, the overheard conversations, a variety of social interactions occurring, a baby watches and learns from these diverse situations.
12 Tag Along
Another parental shortcut in order to keep baby occupied when free time is scarce is to bring them along on errands and chores. Everyone knows a parent’s work never ends. In fact, any parent who plops their baby down in a bassinet or bouncy chair while they attempt to get their chores done may find their baby can easily remain there the entire day - until they begin to scream their lungs out anyway.
Allowing baby to tag along as parents tackle the mountain of dirty laundry or ironing, while they clean out the fridge or prepare dinner - or when reading a book, watching Tv or exercising - is a great way to stimulate baby’s senses. Even if unable to devote undivided attention their way, a baby will enjoy the change of scenery.
Parents can further include babies by talking or singing to them as they check the items off their to-do list one by one. It really does not take all that much to amuse a newborn. To ramp up engagement even further, considering getting baby to help out with the ironing - JK!
11 Baby Talk
It’s funny how a teeny baby can turn even the most austere person into a cooing puddle but the fact is that this may actually be human instinct. Talking to a baby (especially their parents) is extremely important for their future development. At first, it will seem like a one-sided conversation, but talking to a baby actually builds their language foundation and contributes to how quickly they will pick up talking themselves.
Cooing or drawing out certain words for baby’s benefit helps capture and hold their attention. While it can be a verbal assault on anyone else within earshot, baby enjoys this exaggerated speech pattern from adults. They will listen and possibly be enticed to try and communicate back.
That said, it is equally important for babies to listen to normal speech patterns so they can learn to decode natural language rhythms. To recap quickly: it is important for both mom and dad to talk to baby on a continual basis; cooing and exaggerated speech is good as is normal, non-babyesque conversation too. But steer clear of nonsensical baby talk - it is actually considered damaging to language development.
10 Get Turned Around
When baby becomes stronger and more interested in their surroundings, a parent may notice them straining to turn their head while being held in an infant carrier. As long as they have good control over their head and neck (usually around three to four months of age), they can be held face-forward within the wearable carrier. This way, they can easily take in what is happening around them while still remaining snuggled close to mom or dad.
It is probably for the best to only keep them forward facing when in familiar environments and only for short bursts of time. Babies can become easily overwhelmed or overly stimulated by all there is to see. If they become fussy or agitated, flip them back around to snuggle inward.
Facing forward for too long can sometimes lead to communication disruptions as a baby is unable to gauge a parent’s emotional or physical cues. A baby can also become entranced with their surroundings which may signal insecurity. As long as a parent remains cognizant of their baby’s cues and responds accordingly, all is good.
9 Rearrange The Furniture
Making slight alterations to a baby’s familiar environment is a wonderful way to engage and stimulate them. Simply moving their crib location or putting their bouncy chair in a different corner than usual will provide baby with a completely new angle and visual perspective of their world. This new point of view may be all it takes to entertain and visually stimulate baby for the next little while.
Consider switching things up when feeding baby. Perhaps feed them in a different room than normal or just in a different location within the usual room. They may enjoy this alternate view while chowing down.
When a parent notices that baby is vividly interested in something, allow them ample opportunity to inspect it before moving them or the object of importance. Before running out to buy expensive or educational toys designed to stimulate a baby’s senses, simply make a few furniture adjustments and bask in success!
8 Know When to Hold Them
Parents may have heard that holding a newborn can spoil them and this dated and completely incorrect information is often passed along by ancient busy bodies who enjoy criticizing. In fact, it is impossible to spoil a newborn. Holding a baby close is another instinctual form of communication between parent and child. It lets them know they are safe, secure and cared for.
Holding a baby close, especially via direct skin-to-skin contact, provides many benefits for both baby and parent including:
- It promotes bonding.
- It can stave off postpartum depression in new moms.
- It can regulate both baby's body temperature and heart rate.
- It can aid in tempering a new mom's hormonal fluctuations.
- It encourages a positive sleep rhythm for baby.
- It can boost baby's immune system.
- It stimulates baby's psychological and emotional growth.
- It helps baby's senses develop.
Feeling a mother’s heartbeat is very reassuring to a newborn as scientists believe it is reminiscent of their time in utero. Keep in mind that a busy parent doesn’t necessarily have to carve out specific time for holding - just extend the times a baby would be held anyway such as when feeding or burping or before bath or bed.
7 Take It Outside
As soon as a baby is born, it is perfectly fine for parents to take them outside or on errands (assuming there are no health issues present). While it may be easy to overlook the benefits of exposing a new baby to nature, getting them outside and exposed to a variety of environments and sensations will have a subtle butterfly effect on their development.
A baby’s sense of sight, sound, touch and smell will be put to good use and add to the rich layer of their unique development process. Oftentimes, many new parents notice that their newborns become less fussy and even more relaxed when outside. This is mainly due to the fact that they are stimulated and engaged by the world around them and are focussed on processing the information gathered.
For new parents concerned about exposing baby to germs, follow a few simple guidelines including:
- Keep baby strapped into their bucket car seat to discourage other people from wanting to hold them.
- Keep them covered by a light-weight blanket
- While other children may be curious about a baby, let them look but not touch.
- Keep baby out of direct sunlight as their skin is extremely sensitive to sunburn.
6 Ocular Activity
According to parenting expert Dr. Sears, surrounding newborns with pastel colors is on par with keeping them blindfolded! Visual stimulation is crucial in infants as it is the only way the visual center in their brains will develop. By providing interesting visuals to a baby, their retina will flourish, their optic nerve will thrive and the visual part of their brain will develop in leaps and bounds.
Babies are extremely stimulated by black and white stripes or light and dark contrasting colors. These contrasts will register more powerfully on their retina, thus sending strong visual signals to their brain. Keep this in mind when decorating a baby’s nursery and furnishing it with toys, pillows and blankets. And for any parent really wanting to make their baby’s day - consider wearing a striped shirt or dress.
Contrasting colors and patterns aren’t the only way to visually stimulate a newborn. Changes in light, moving shadows on a wall and even fluttering curtains can be an endless source of entertainment for a baby.
5 Toy Story
Because most parenting experts agree that babies are most visually stimulated by light and dark contrasts and bold striped patterns, keep this in mind when purchasing baby’s very first toys. Oftentimes, baby blankets, plush toys and even books are comprised of soft pastel colors which really don’t have much of an impact on a newborn.
Instead, choose board books filled with brightly colored pictures or dramatically contrasting designs. Find black and white patterned cards and tape them on baby’s wall where they can see them as they lay in their crib or rest in their bouncy chair. Just remember that newborns can really only see eight to 12 inches away at first.
For any parents out there with creative flair, consider constructing a personalized mobile for baby out of an ordinary clothes hanger with household objects dangling from it such as utensils, shells and other random odds and ends. Every once in a while, swap the items up for a visual change. Of course, be sure to keep the mobile somewhere that baby can’t get hold of it and hurt themselves in any way.
4 Enjoy a Good Rub-Down
The benefits of infant massage go above and beyond using touch to relieve gas or colic - although this is a definite plus! Massaging a newborn is a way for parents to communicate with their baby non-verbally. This gentle touch will help an infant develop trust, confidence and familiarity with a parent. Plus, massage is a surefire way to stimulate all of baby’s senses which aid in their rapid development.
Besides simply being a healthy way for parents to interact and bond with their baby, infant massage also provides many other perks such as:
- It promotes infant relaxation.
- It often stimulates a baby's circulatory and digestive systems.
- It can be an immunity booster.
- It can aid in their coordination development.
- It encourages muscular development and growth.
- It may also soothe minor issues like constipation, teething and growing pains.
Best of all, infant massage lets a baby know they are valued and loved.
3 Imitation Game
When a newborn makes a noise or sound, this is their very first attempt at speaking and communicating with their caregivers. Which is why it should be acknowledged and actively encouraged. Parents can do their part by imitating baby’s vocalizations and gestures back to them. For a newborn, this will pave the way toward a deeper understanding that parents can hear them and respond. Soon enough, they will be able to process and begin to understand the concept of communication.
Parents can ask baby a question and then make a point to be enthusiastic about any answer they receive in return. Parents can also do their best to have a back and forth conversation with baby. This will teach them the give-and-take nature of general conversations.
These pseudo-conversations as well as mirroring baby’s sounds, noises and movements are not only interesting to newborns, but they lay down the foundation about the basics of communication and human interaction.
2 Music To Their Ears
Singing to a baby often seems to go hand-in-hand with parenting. Chalk it up to yet another human instinct intricately designed in order to engage and bond with a newborn. Even for parents who consider themselves tone deaf, their singing is literally music to their baby’s ears. Babies don’t care what their parents’ sound like - they are hardwired to love the sound of their parents’ singing voice. It is familiar to them.
Ask any new parent and chances are they have noticed that their baby’s coos and babbles have a melodic quality to them. This is not coincidence. Singing is the ideal way to communicate back to these little poop machines for the following reasons:
- It can relax and ease baby into a new transition.
- It is an amazing way for a parent to express their love that baby will understand.
- Singing encourages language development and introduces new vocabulary.
- It increases a baby's listening skills.
Best of all, when a parent sings to their baby, it forges a strong connection that even a newborn infant can understand.
1 Hooked On A Feeling
Allowing a newborn to feel a variety of textures is a great way to stimulate their sense of touch. Many board books, play mats and toys geared for infants come equipped with an assortment of textured materials for baby to touch and explore. A parent can take it further by having baby touch a bumpy texture followed by saying the word “bumpy” or having them stroke fur while saying “soft”. Eventually, they will know to associate the word with the feeling.
Other textures easily found in nature that many parents overlook as possible sensory or learning opportunities include the feeling of sand and grass under their bare toes. Or the feeling of gentle water lapping at their feet like on a beach. It’s important for parents to put aside any worries of baby getting a bit grubby and let baby get the most out of what the natural world has to offer.