You have made it through labor and delivery and you are on your way home with your new bundle. Several days go by and the exhaustion settles in. You gaze lovingly into your child’s eyes with what little energy you can muster. Then it hits you like a sack of potatoes, “Now what am I supposed to do?” Fear not, help is here! Though all a newborn truly needs is food, warmth, love and sleep, experience has taught this mom to always have a few tricks up her sleeve for the time in-between feeding, changing, feeding, changing, feeding and changing. Searching far and wide, I have put together the following list of specific activities to stimulate your newborns five senses. Utilizing these activities will help make those first three months, and beyond, a little less stressful.
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Since newborns sleep around 18 hours a day, have no head or body control, and depend solely on you for survival, it may seem overwhelming to find ways to stimulate and play with them. Heck, just becoming a new parent is overwhelming in and of itself! How are you supposed to play with this little one when you are so exhausted? The answer is not as hard as one may think. It is best to simply start with the five senses: sight, smell, sound, touch and taste.
Sight: Mobile, Picture Book, Finger Puppets, Water
Studies show that a newborn can see approximately 8 inches away and even though this is not enough distance to see a mobile hung above a crib, by the time she is one month old, she will be able to follow objects from left to right at a longer distance. Utilizing a mobile will not only tantalize her sense of sight, but modern mobiles also play music or turn. If an expensive contemporary mobile is not your style, there are many ways to make your own mobile from simple items. Please do make sure your homemade mobile is safe, of course.
Sharing a book of attractive and colorful pictures with your new baby is a wonderful activity! Though it is easy to just buy one from the toy store, personalizing your pictures or creating a story to read for your baby is even better! Visit an online store to create your own photo book with descriptive captions that turn your pictures into an adventure. By using family photos, this can help your baby learn the identification of those that will visit her soon. I did this with my children every day and by the time they were around six months they could recognize the grandparents when they came to visit.
When our first son was born, my husband practiced counting with him every day. He would hold up his fingers, count one through five, and had a lot of fun. Though hands and fingers can be fascinating on their own to a newborn, taking a marker and drawing a silly face on your finger turns them into characters! Get fancy with making your own finger puppets out of fun fabrics and add-ons like plastic eyeballs or yarn for hair. Even aluminum foil can make a great tin man finger! If the thought of getting crafty terrifies you, shop for finger puppets online or at a local toy store. One word of caution, start with just one puppet at a time. Using all five finger puppets at once may startle your little bundle!
One of the best things for babies to play with is water! This is not just limited to the tub, either. Fill up a simple plastic bottle with water and glitter, put the lid on tight and KA-ZAM! You have quite the show when tipped side to side! Use food coloring or dish soap in the water also! Turn the bottle into a beach theme with blue water and seashells. Add beads, spaghetti, rocks, or whatever you have around the house!
Smell: Candles/Essential Oils, Food
Yes, your baby can smell! Do not take this sense for granted. A baby’s sense of smell begins to develop when you are six months pregnant. Using a scented candle or essential oils while baby is taking a bath will help relax and stimulate her at the same time. Take care, though, not to place them close to baby as they may be overpowering for her.
Have you ever smelled a certain food cooking and get instantly sent back to your childhood? Food can have a powerful effect on our minds. This holds true for newborns, too! Try taking simple foods like bananas, strawberries, and oranges cut into chunks and waving them by your newborns nose. Make sure she had just been fed so not to tease her! My husband loved to do this when he cooked bacon…now my sons cannot get enough bacon! So I advise to take heed on the foods you choose!
Sound: Reading, Music
All the while your baby was developing, she heard other family members, traffic, jiggling of your keys, phones ringing, and mostly, the sound of your voice. Reading to her is by far one of the most wonderful activities to do with your newborn. Grab whatever you can find close by albeit a magazine, newspaper, book, recipe, even your checkbook! The content is not really important, just the sound of your voice and the tone you use. I found it fun to make up rhymes while I would nurse, though the standard baby stories you find in the bookstores are pretty good, too.
Children love music! It can be a phenomenal tool for teaching and learning. Find a regular time of day dedicated to music. Place her in her crib, swing, special floor mat, or simply in your arms! Listening to upbeat music while you dance around with her can be refreshing for you both! With modern and convenient technology, you can create a personal playlist or specific station on internet radio and carry it with you on your phone. Or you can be slightly old fashioned and shop around for a newborn music CD. For a more personal touch, singing to your baby is the best music to her ears! Create your own concert and make up songs based on your daily activities. Diaper changes are fun when there is a song to go along. With so many options to choose from with music, it may be your best toy yet!
As a Licensed Massage Therapist for over 10 years, I know the value of touch! And babies are no exception to needing skin to skin contact! Studies have proven that babies develop at a greater level when they have a daily routine of touch. This can be accomplished in a very simple way, infant massage! Designate a regular time of day for your baby to be massaged; before or after bath, before bed, after lunch, whichever. This may take a few days to figure out. Some babies are resistive at first, but that is only because it is new. You do not have to use a lotion, but it does help. I liked to use music with my second, but my first preferred me to sing to him. Placing your hands on your baby’s torso and holding them there for a few minutes is a great start. This helps your baby get acclimated to your touch and pressure. It is important to pay attention to your baby’s cues that she has had enough. Overtime, she will grow to look forward to her massage! For a complete infant massage routine, check back soon!
Time to hit the gym! Your baby will benefit from an established exercise routine. Though you are not pumping iron with her, a gentle 10 minute workout two to three times a day will also help her sleep. Moving her legs and arms, stretching all her fingers and toes, even having her practice standing, sitting and rolling over will jumpstart her development and keep her active. For a sample exercise routine, check back soon!
The following suggestions on stimulating your newborns sense of taste are solely based on my own personal experience. I do not recommend “feeding” your newborn any food beyond breast milk or formula. This is simply my own method for an activity. Please use your best judgment.
On the days that I just could not come up with anything else to do with my darling boys or I was plain exhausted, I took to their stomachs. After all, the way to any man’s heart is through his stomach, right? Sticking with more dense foods like apples, carrots, or pears, so he would not swallow the food, I would take small chunks and simple let him have a taste! By holding the food in his mouth, was able to feel the texture with his tongue. It was always great fun to see the faces he would make. If you choose to do this, make sure your baby has been fed so as not to tease her and make matters worse.
Newborns are little sponges ready to soak up all that you give them. Have your plan of action ready so your thoughts can center on her beautiful smile. The monotony of those first months will be soothed with these simple activities to help fill up your day. A newborn baby does not need fancy or expensive toys. A few simple items paired with creativity can be just what she desires. It is important to remember though that babies do get overstimulated. On the same note, they can get bored, too. Learning the right balance for you and your baby will come over time. Whether you soothe your baby with a gentle massage, show her pictures of family, or light a scented candle, the most loved and entertaining thing for your new baby is Y-O-U!
Author: Shirley L. Moore, mother & expert organizer