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Stimulating your baby

Easy ways to share experiences and sensations with your baby from the earliest days.


Posted: 20 August 2009
by Laura Lee Davies

Although your baby might take a few weeks to crack a smile at you (yes, you're right, those early grins were wind), it is never too early to start communicating with her.

Don’t rush to text books
In the earliest weeks, you don't need to worry about much more than a tender touch, plenty of skin to skin contact and using your voice to soothe and stimulate your baby. Even if your pregnancy dreams of graduation day at Oxford or Cambridge haven't disappeared in a haze of sleepless nights, the building blocks of your child's IQ (and their EQ - emotional intelligence) start with making a connection with the people around her.
Talk to her, give her a commentary on what you are doing, even if you are just making a cup of tea. You can coo or use a gentle voice, but there's no need to get all 'goo-goo, gaa-gaa' with her. You could recite Shakespeare's sonnets or chunks of Heat magazine and she'd love it because it's your voice and you're talking to HER.

Baby massage
When she is about ten weeks old, try baby massage. Unlike some mystical spiritual art, it's easy to do and one of the few things you can get into at home or at a local group. (Have a look on the noticeboard of your local health centre or doctor's surgery and you will probably find a baby massage session you can drop into near you. Or try a video of baby massage techniques. A guru in the field, Peter Walker, has released several books and videos on the subject.) Not only does baby massage breed confidence between mother and baby as you learn to handle your baby's arms, legs and body, but it introduces your baby to new movement and sensations.

The sound of music
Your baby won't be doing much moving for the first few weeks, but all babies love music, it's just a question of finding something in your collection they enjoy. Some babies prefer classical music (Mozart is often cited as a good soundtrack for developing babies*), others love the lolloping rhythms of reggae.
Sing to your baby. Singing evens out the sound of your voice when your baby needs something soothing to hear. Through simple nursery rhymes you can begin to offer story structure and language long before they will need to use these skills themselves. Familiarity with songs and stories now makes that gradual transition all the more easy.
*The Baby Einstein CDs and DVDs which aim to provide visual and aural stimulation for young children have a range including ‘Baby Mozart’, ‘Baby Beethoven’ and ‘Baby Bach’, though quite what the original composers would have made of this youthful audience we will never know!

Animal magic
Making animal noises is one of the most popular routes to first words and sounds for children between about 11 and 16 months, during which time most will start the basics of talking. Make sounds when you see animals or when you share them in first books. Sing 'Old MacDonald Had A Farm' to them. (It was such a favourite in our house during nappy-changing time that, by the time our son was saying his first words, he'd instantly exclaim 'Ee-i-ee-i-o' when he saw the changing mat.) Unfortunatey, many play animals are small and hard and not really suitable for children under three. However, stores like Mothercare and Early Learning Centre do occasionally bring out more chunky ranges for smaller hands.

By the book
You don't need a library of classics to get your child into reading. If you want to, you can read to your child when they are very young, but sharing board-books (books where the pages are as thick as the cover and easy for little hands to turn) doesn't really start before about nine months or even later, into the second year.
Books with one picture per page are good. Bright colours, chunky images and simple words or rhymes for you to read are all ideal. Picture books without words are great, especially ones with animals on or household objects which she can begin to point to when asked, as she gets a little older.
When she begins to crawl she may find sitting still and sharing a book far too dull, but somewhere between one year and two, babies come back to the enjoyment of snuggling up and looking at a book with mummy or daddy.

Getting physical
One of the earliest games babies love to play is peek-a-boo. That might sound like a nanny cliché but it’s true, and when your baby first takes the initiative to hide or show her face, you will feel a huge swell of pride, I kid you not!
Try this tentatively at first in case your child does not like having her head covered or is fearful of you concealing your own face. Try using something like her blanket, a muslin cloth or an item she is familiar with. Something light will not feel oppressive if she has it over her head or wants to pull it away from your face easily. At first, you will need to lift it each time, even if she is willing to play with you, but she will soon grasp the concept and start to time her sudden appearances to maximise comic effect! Make repeated sounds and surprised noises; this is a major part of the fun.
Rolling a ball to your baby is great too, or taking a smallish ball (perhaps the size of a tennis ball) and rolling it around inside something like a rimmed tray. The repetitive but simple movement fascinates babies.

Toys and the boxes they come in
Before they can sit up, babies can lie on their bellies (during waking hours this is preferable as it helps strengthen their backs and chests and encourages them to push up) and look at bold objects, squeeze soft toys, scrunch things and gaze at play mirrors. Companies like Lamaze do excellent ranges of early toys which are all carefully graded from birth onwards. Big patterns in black and white are as stimulating as multicoloured ones to a baby and you will now see many two-tone toys on the shelves of good toy shops.
So long as they don’t try snacking on it, babies love to crinkle up paper, seeing how they can change its shape and make noises with it using their own hands. Boxes too, are wonderful first hiding places for a favourite toy. Your baby will enjoy an activity as simple as putting teddy in and taking teddy out, over and over again. You can watch her at a distance or get down on her level and talk to her, but don’t try to dominate something she has initiated herself. Being able to amuse herself is a precious talent.

Tin pan alley
Don’t feel you have to be your baby’s school teacher. Many children will be happy sat in a safe place somewhere in the kitchen while you cook, playing with some up-turned pots and pans and a big shiny serving spoon with which they can make some great clattering sounds. Making their own noise, by accident and eventually by design is a great thrill and the texture of different utensils is a source of wonder for babies.
Sometimes you might have music, the radio or the television on in the background. This is fine, but tune in to when your baby needs quiet to enjoy the sensations immediately around her.

No curriculum
As ever, remember that all babies are different. Some are racers. The ones who kicked their legs most of each day when they lay awake in front of you, who can’t wait to get on their feet and dash around. Others, once they reach the sitting stage (which begins usually around the sixth, seventh or eighth month) will happily stop and examine one thing for ages.
Anything you have time to share with your child, for five minutes or an hour, is valuable and should be enjoyed. Never feel duty-bound to do these things but instead, find a way of sharing experiences with your child that you take pleasure in too. At home or out and about, your enthusiasm and joy will rub off on your baby.


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