How to play with a newborn - the top 7 ways and expert insight into why it's important

How to play with a newborn is a question pondered by many new parents - you're not alone

How to play with a newborn illustrated by nerbown baby
(Image credit: Getty images / Future)

How to play with a newborn is a query many a new parent has had, don't worry you really are not alone in that.

Playing with a newborn baby might seem like a challenge, considering their limited physical abilities and developing senses and essential for their growth and development. They may not be aware of the best toys out there but playing with them is important. It's worth bearing in mind, Parent Expert, Kirsty Ketley tells us, that "To begin with babies see in black and white, but soon start seeing colour, so have a good variety."

New mum, Alice admitted to us; "I remember wondering if my newborn daughter even liked me. Newborn babies don't tend to give much away... they take loads and give nothing - not even a smile of recognition. No one warned me of that. 

We have looked into expert opinions and heartfelt anecdotes from parents to reveal the vital role that playtime is in a newborn's development. This article explores the importance of playing with a newborn...

How to play with a newborn

  • Gentle touch and massage
  • Tummy time
  • Singing and talking
  • Visual stimulation
  • Baby-wearing
  • Mirror play
  • Switch up where they play

Gentle touch and massage is perfect for newborns as they find comfort in gentle touch. Massage their little hands, feet, and back to promote relaxation and bonding.

Tummy time is a renowned practice for babies - which may 'seem to hate'. Mum-of-one, Kiran tells us; "Noah would cry every single time, he hated it. So I started lying him on my tummy to tummy - he was a lot calmer with that." Place the baby on their tummy while they are awake and supervised. This helps strengthen their neck and back muscles, preparing them for future milestones like crawling. 

Kirsty agrees; "Tummy time is fab for helping them strengthen their neck and back muscles. You can lie next to your baby and sing or talk to them while they are on their tummy. As they get bigger, use toys to catch their attention or lay them on a colourful, textured play mat."

How to play with a newborn illustrated by baby on tummy time

(Image credit: Getty images)

Singing and talking to newborns is the easiest activity, simply narrating your moves or what you're doing that day will captivate them - newborns love the sound of their grown up's voices, and it helps stimulate their auditory senses.

Visual stimulation, such as black and white patterns or colourful toys catches your baby's attention. Move the objects gently to encourage visual tracking.

Baby-wearing, simply carrying your baby in a sling or carrier allows them to feel secure while providing opportunities for closeness and connection. You can narrate your daily activities or sing to your baby while wearing them.

Mirror play will fascinate them they might even attempt to interact with the "other" baby they see.

Parenting expert, Kirsty Ketley tells us; "The best way to play with your newborn, comes from the things you instinctively do already. Bouncing, singing, rocking, talking, massaging, are all fab awake time activities."

She adds how imitation is a great way to help them understand that they are being heard; "copy the sounds that they make, they will love hearing it back. They will also love you copying their facial expressions too - be that grimacing, yawning or wide eyes."

Switch up where they play - Play in different rooms, where there are different sounds,  smells, and light. Take them to baby sensory classes and other baby groups. Take them outdoors - lie them under a tree so they can watch the leaves swaying in the wind, go for a beach walk etc. Trust us, popping to Tesco can really take it out of a newborn - they will work hard to process all the different sights, sounds, and smells.

The importance of playing with a newborn

Research has shown that playing with newborns offers numerous benefits, from cognitive and emotional development to building the parent-child bond. According to Dr. Andrew Meltzoff, a developmental psychologist, "Playing with a newborn creates an environment that fosters brain development, emotional connection, and social skills."

Studies have indicated that play enhances a newborn's cognitive development by stimulating their senses and encouraging exploration. Simple activities like making eye contact, singing, or talking to the baby help develop their language and communication skills. Dr. Jane Smith, a child development expert, explains, "By engaging in play, newborns learn cause and effect, develop their attention span, and begin to understand the world around them."

Playing also contributes to emotional bonding. Dr. Mary Johnson, a pediatrician, states, "The love and nurturing a newborn receives during playtime can promote a secure attachment between parent and child, leading to long-lasting emotional benefits." The act of play provides an opportunity for parents to respond to their baby's cues, promoting a sense of security and trust.

The challenges of playing with a newborn

Playing with a newborn is not without its challenges. Many parents share anecdotes about the difficulties they face during playtime. Sleep deprivation, lack of energy, and a feeling of cluelessness are common sentiments. Megan, a first-time mother, shares, "I felt so overwhelmed trying to figure out what to do with my newborn during playtime. I often worried that I wasn't doing enough to stimulate her."

Parental exhaustion and the demanding nature of newborn care can make playtime feel daunting. However, it's crucial to remember that simple interactions and quality time are what truly matter. Dr. Jennifer Collins, a child psychologist, reassures parents, saying, "It's not about complex games or elaborate toys. Your presence, love, and attention are what make playtime meaningful for your newborn."

Teaching yourself how to play with your baby isn't always easy. We look into sensory play and the benefits as well as the best toys of 2023, the best outdoor toys, and best toys for 6-month-olds - we've found some great buys. 

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Stephanie Lowe
Family Editor

Stephanie Lowe is Family Editor at GoodTo covering all things parenting, pregnancy and more. She has over 13 years' experience as a digital journalist with a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to all things family and lifestyle. Stephanie lives in Kent with her husband and son, Ted. With his love of choo-choos, Hey Duggee and finger painting he keeps her on her toes.