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Learning, Play, and Your Newborn

Play is the main way that infants learn how to move, communicate, socialize, and understand their surroundings. During the first month of life, your baby will learn by interacting with you.

The first thing your baby will learn is to associate you with getting their needs met. So, the feel of your touch, the sound of your voice, and the sight of your face will begin to mean nourishment, warmth, and comfort.

Even at this young age, babies are ready to learn about the world around them. Your newborn loves to look your face. Newborns can recognize and respond to a parent's voice (or other interesting sounds) by looking alert and becoming less active. Babies may try to find out where a sound is coming from by looking around.

When is My Baby Ready to Play and Learn?

During the first month of life, your newborn will spend much of the day sleeping or seeming drowsy. Over the next several weeks to months, your baby will begin to be awake and alert for longer periods of time. You'll learn to recognize when your baby is ready to learn and play:

  • A baby who is quiet and alert will be attentive and responsive and interested in their surroundings. Encourage learning with smiles, soothing sounds, and gentle caresses.
  • A baby who is awake but active (squirming, flapping arms, or kicking legs) or fussing is less able to focus on you. The baby may seem upset or cry when you try to get their attention. These are signs that your baby may be getting hungry, tired, or overstimulated.

How Can I Help My Newborn Learn?

As you care for your newborn, talk, smile, and interact with your baby. Pay attention and respond to your baby's cues. For example, watch how your baby moves or starts to make sounds back when you speak. Take turns "talking" to each other. This is how your baby learns to communicate.

In the first few weeks, you may want to introduce some simple, age-appropriate toys that appeal to the senses of sight, hearing, and touch, such as:

  • rattles
  • textured toys
  • musical toys
  • unbreakable crib mirrors

Choose toys and mobiles with contrasting colors and patterns. Strong contrasts (such as red, white, and black), curves, and symmetry stimulate an infant's developing vision. As vision improves and babies gain more control over their movements, they'll interact more with their environment.

How Can I Help My Newborn Play?

Here are some other ideas for encouraging your newborn to learn and play:

  • Smile, stick out your tongue, and make other expressions for your infant to study, learn, and imitate.
  • Use a favorite toy for your newborn to focus on and follow, or shake a rattle for your infant to find.
  • Let your baby spend some awake time lying on the tummy to help strengthen the neck and shoulders. Always supervise your infant during "tummy time" and be ready to help if they get tired or frustrated in this position. Never put an infant to sleep on their stomach — babies should sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
  • Talk and read to your baby.
  • Put on soothing music and hold your baby, gently swaying to the tune.
  • Pick a soothing song or lullaby and softly sing it often to your baby. The familiarity of the sound and words will have a soothing effect, particularly during fussy times.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

There is a wide range of normal development, so some children may gain skills earlier or later than others. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about how your newborn sees and hears, or if you have any questions or concerns about your baby's development.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date Reviewed: May 27, 2022

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