When my wife was pregnant, we attended some pregnancy classes together to learn about life after birth, and everything that is involved in looking after a baby. One of the things they talked about was playtime and bonding with your child and how important this was. It all made sense, and we could see how important it was, and they took us through some ideas on how to play, and how this helped with baby’s development. But you see, as I mentioned in my post ‘Expectations Vs Reality – What To Expect As A New Dad’ I had no experience playing with newborns, or even babies really. My experience was toddlers and above, so I really had no idea what play time was actually like for a newborn. And having gone through the experience, I found myself at times questioning the point to play time, especially when I didn’t seem to be ‘getting anything back’ from our daughter anyway. And then on top of this the lack of sleep, adjusting to our new life and dealing with the cries, where was this energy for playtime supposed to come from? But I was keen to try anyway, and hopefully after reading this, you will be too!
As always, any information included in this post is of a general nature and applies to my personal experience. If you require further support with strategies to play and bond with your baby, please seek support from your doctor, child health nurse or other relevant professional.
Why It’s Good To Play With Your Newborn
We’ve all been told that you should play with your newborn. Without much reading into the topic, most people generally figure it’s good for their development and to help you connect with your baby. But what are the actual reasons for playing with your newborn? According to ‘Raising Children‘, the benefits include:
- Developing the bond between you and baby, so they can get to know you and feel comfortable with you, and ultimately feel secure and loved.
- Supporting brain development. Play time helps baby’s neuron’s in their brain begin to connect, which helps them make sense of the world around them.
- Helping baby develop their speech and communication.
- To help you understand your baby’s personality and temperament as they continue to grow.
It’s Not Just About Baby, It’s About You Too
Aside from the clear benefits for any growing baby, it’s also about developing that connection between baby and parent. For fathers, this is really important. It is well researched how feeding your baby is a good way to develop the bond between parent and baby, as well as skin on skin time, bath time and nappy changes. For dad’s who have to work, there can be a lot of missed opportunities to engage in these activities, and a lot of missed time away from their family. This can lead to feeling disconnected from your child and creates uncertainty about how to really bond with your child. Throw on top of this your baby crying and wailing whenever you do try to help out, and it quickly leads to feeling disheartened about your chances of developing that bond.
In my case, I was quite lucky in that I was able to get additional time off work in the first few weeks, and was able to work part time for a few months after, but even so I often felt that I was missing out, and when it was my opportunity to try to bond with my daughter, I often had to deal with my anxiety about being able to connect with her and regularly wanted to pass her back to my wife. But I was glad that I persevered through, because that early work into developing that bond between my daughter and I payed off in the end. I was able to see how she began to settle with me and not just my wife, and I felt better able to understand her cues and what she needed.
But if you aren’t as lucky to have that additional time with your family, then it’s about using the time that you do have, in the best way possible to build that bond. And play time is a guaranteed way to help do that!
Practical Play Ideas
So you know why it’s important and all the benefits for you and baby, but how do you actually build that bond through play? Before we get to play, remember that you can build that bond through other means, so even if play isn’t your strength, you can always try the following:
- Skin on skin time. Whenever you are holding baby, take off your shirt and let baby rest on your skin. No training required, and baby doesn’t care how you look!
- Bath time and nappy changes. Nothing says I love you and I’ll protect you like cleaning your baby’s poo and keeping them clean.
- Eye contact. Not like ‘staring contest’ level of eye contact, but just enough. Oh and throw in a smile and have a bit of a chat about what you’re doing while you’re at it. Baby might not understand, but they’ll learn to love your voice!
But if you want to get involved in play time, then the following activities you could try:
- If you are already holding your baby and looking at them, try pulling some different faces and see how they respond. They may not like all of them, but it will support them to recognise you with different expressions.
- And if you are already talking to them, try throwing in some tunes and start singing. The great thing is that baby doesn’t know what good singing sounds like yet, so even if you think you sound bad, baby will love it either way.
- While you are holding them and singing, and pulling the odd face here and there, why not walk around the house and let them experience different rooms or outside? The spare room may seem mundane to you, but baby hasn’t seen anything like it before. So house tours are always a fun activity for baby!
- Likewise, let them touch new textures or objects as you go exploring your house. Everything is so new to baby that each room could be explored over and over and they would still be interested!
- Tummy time is a standard practice for play time, but if you want to engage baby more, let them do tummy time on the couch while you sit on the floor so you can see their face. That way you can keep pulling faces, keep belting out some tunes, while baby builds up their muscles.
- Reading books. This I found was easiest done during tummy time while your hands are free!
A few ideas to try, but what is most important is tailoring them to your own circumstances! I would often do tours of the house, pointing out and explaining every little thing in our house in order to help me bond with my daughter. I also liked this activity as I was going through a DIY phase, and it helped me talk out my ideas for any renovations or changes I wanted to do to the house (who said men can’t multi-task!)
My Baby Doesn’t Do Anything Back – Are You Sure This Works?
The hardest part I found was doing all these different activities, only to get nothing back from baby. I mean logically I knew that my baby wasn’t going to do much or respond much to what I was doing, but motivation levels quickly decrease when you are using all your energy to care for and bond with your child and all you get back is a blank stare or a yawn. The way I got through it was trying to make it as entertaining for me as possible, trying to be mindful and focusing on the moment to help reduce frustration (check out my other post ‘How To Find Time To Relax With A Newborn‘ for more details) and remembering the end goal – to develop the bond and help with development.
Playtime Gets Easier – I Swear!
Trying to develop your bond and engage in play is challenging, on top of everything else you need to do as a parent. But it does get easier. As baby grows, you will start to notice your bond strengthening and they will then start to respond to you more, settle with you when they need it, and seek you out when they see you. And you don’t even need to do everything listed above. If you stay focused on doing a few things each day to play with your newborn, you’ll become more confident in playing with your baby and start to notice the positive impact it has on your bond between you two.
Looking for toys that will help with play time? Check out my post 5 Common Educational Baby Toys.
Any information included in this post is of a general nature and does not take into consideration your personal circumstances. Please seek support from your relevant health professional if you are having any difficulties or concerns in your newborn journey.