You did it! You’re finally home with your newborn baby. During those magical and sleep-deprived first few weeks you will spend countless hours marveling at this tiny miracle. Your baby will be comforted by your presence. Your constant gaze, warm arms and gentle touches are building up his sense of security bit by bit. You’ll bond, get to know each other and, little by little, begin to play.
While it may not look like your baby can do much in these early weeks, he’s busy taking it all in. Playing with your baby from the start is a healthy—and necessary—part of your routine. In fact, play helps build the foundation for all future learning.
Holding your baby close, attending to his needs and responding to his cries for help all foster the bond between you and your baby. At this age, it’s not too early to encourage that closeness by reading or making up stories. Your child won’t understand what you say just yet, but he’ll respond to the tone of your voice.
P.S. The sense of security your baby develops in his first 3 months prepares him to explore his world and develop other skills.
During the first few weeks, you’ll be amazed by how much your baby can already communicate. With a cry, a whimper, and eventually a happy coo, your child can tell you when he becomes hungry, tired or content. As early as 3 months, your baby may even begin to respond and participate in babbling conversations with you, stopping when you talk, and starting again when you stop. Laughing and repeating certain sounds becomes the norm between 4 and 6 months.
P.S. Be sure to talk to your baby frequently from birth; he prefers your voice right from the start, even if he doesn’t yet understand what you’re saying.
In young babies, fine motor skill development includes grasping and letting things go (newborns are born with this ability, called the Palmer reflex). By 8 weeks, he’ll begin opening and closing his fist on purpose, and soon after may attempt to bat at toys. Finger dexterity continues to develop over the next several months. As he grows, place toys in his hand, and later encourage him to hold toys that are easy to grasp, such as rattles, teethers and small toys.
P.S. Baby’s softest blanket may go from being a source of tactile and finger play in infancy to becoming his favorite comfort item down the road. If you can, get a few extras now and swap them often, just in case the original gets destroyed or misplaced.
Gross motor skills are those that use the strength of large muscle groups, and they tend to develop from head to toe and from the inside to out. (Your baby’s head and neck muscles strengthen first, then the arms and midsection, and later, leg movements.) By the time your baby is 3 months old, he will have sufficient strength in his upper body and the ability to lock his elbows, allowing you to pull him up to a supported seated position without his head lagging behind. In months 4 and 5, he learns to roll from his back to his front and continues to gain head control. Around 6 months, he is becoming stronger and will soon be able to push himself from all fours to sitting on his own.
P.S. Once your baby is able to sit, his whole world gets bigger. That triggers bigger interest in the objects and people around him, and inspires even more movement.
When your baby smiles and you smile back, he’s starting to learn about cause and effect. Around 3 months, your baby is beginning to realize that his cooing is getting a response from you. Baby-friendly toys that light up or make sounds when he touches them will give him plenty of opportunity to increase his understanding of cause and effect.
P.S.Around 4 months, your baby has built up a sense of security, and is becoming more curious about his environment. You may find that until 4 months your newborn prefers to face you in a carrier, and after that, he may start feeling more secure about facing away from you.
Mirroring is important at this stage, and may be the earliest form of communication and play. Your baby is beginning to mirror the face you’re making and smile when you smile.
P.S.Mirroring each other’s expression is also a great way to bond with your little one anywhere you are. Have fun with it!
“Your child learns from play, right from the moment he first tries to reach out to touch the rattle dangled in front of him. Play is the means through which he engages with the world, whether it is creative play (using art and craft materials), exploratory play (as he investigates the cupboard), physical play (when he rolls, crawls, walks, or climbs), or imaginative play (when he pretends to be someone else)…. Your young baby should have toys that stimulate all his senses. They should be of different textures, colors, and shapes, and make interesting noises—especially when he holds or shakes them.”
—American Academy of Pediatrics, Tanya Remer Altmann, M.D., F.A.A.P., The Wonder Years: Helping Your Baby and Young Child Successfully Negotiate the Major Developmental Milestones
“Play is not just fun. It stimulates a child’s senses, especially vision, touch, and hearing. It hones his powers of observation and helps him develop and practice coordination and other skills.”
—Dr. Carol Cooper, The Baby and Child Question and Answer Book
“Neuroscience tells us that play is critical in helping the brain to work and learn. It’s not the play activity itself that causes learning, though. It’s the repetition that play encourages. Repetitive activity results in patterned neural activity that changes the brain. And the critical link between play and learning—the reason we keep repeating something and therefore learn from it—is pleasure.”
—Jill Stamm, Ph.D., Bright From the Start: The Simple, Science-Backed Way to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind from Birth to Age 3
“I have a 7-week-old daughter who doesn’t have too many toys yet, but she likes the mirror on her car seat because she is starting to see better and she likes staring into it. Her dad and I sing to her a lot; she also loves being in her free-standing swing or being swung in our arms.”
—Caprice, Portland, OR
“Playing with my twin 4-month-old boys is always a surprise. It seems with every passing day they're just a little bit more interactive. Their newest thrill: laughing at daddy when he says 'a-BOO'.”
—Cate, Portsmouth, NH
“My 5 ½-month-old son likes toys that can be easily handled, meaning small in size with easy-to-grab parts. He’s really into grabbing and grasping. He won’t hold on to a toy for very long, so if it’s not attached to his stroller or highchair, it ends up on the floor; but if it is attached, he’ll reach for it again and again. He also loves holding and trying to eat his stuffed animals.”
—Jennifer, Sherman Oaks, CA