Kathy Stirrup, our resident Mental Health and Parenting Expert, shares some great ideas of things to do with your baby in the first 6 months, in this 2 part blog series.
Nine months of pregnancy ✓
Spent a small fortune on all the equipment required for a small person: clothing, nappies and changing stuff, pram, bath, cot, bassinet, etc. ✓
Birthed a baby ✓
Ran the rampart of conflicting advice on baby care and feeding from the hospital, assorted relatives and friends ✓
Survived those first days, or weeks, at home in a haze of birth recovery, sleep deprivation, new routines, and endless feeding ✓
Now what to do with this new little person when they AREN’T sleeping or eating?
Many people go into parenthood these days having had very little to do with a small person. If they are lucky they have given a friend or relatives baby a few hugs, but now they are given full charge of a new little life, sent home to look after this precious person all on their own. It’s hard enough getting your head around the feeding and the sleeping and the general care of this little life – knowing how to constructively fill in the awake time may just feel overwhelming.
What follows are a variety of ideas of things to do with your baby from birth to six months. Each baby is unique and develops at their own rate, there is a big range in what’s considered “normal” development, so don’t be concerned if at first your little one doesn’t seem engaged in the activities. Try something else, try the activity again at a different time of day or later stage. Just like with us adults, babies will have preferences for the things that engage them, and they will have some things that they master more quickly than others.
1. Things to do with your baby: Talking
It might sound like an obvious activity, but sometimes we get caught up doing things for our babies and forget to talk with them. Talk to them as you are doing the everyday tasks required for looking after them, nappy time especially gives an ideal opportunity for a chat or song (they don’t care if you are opera trained or not) Talking with your little one helps them to feel loved and cared for, it can relax you both, and in talking with them you are teaching them a basic skill in connecting with others – how to communicate. The patterns and rhythms of conversation and singing help your little person gain listening skills and language development.
Apart from this, talking or singing with your little one also helps you both develop a good attachment relationship, and helps them with their eye contact and development. Talk about what you are doing or planning on doing. Talk about the people in their world, sing nursery rhymes or your favourite pop song, the main thing is that you are engaging with them in a way that says, “You are important and loved”.
2. Things to do with your baby: Baby Games
Raspberry Kisses: Blow a soft raspberry on your baby’s foot or tummy. Watch your baby carefully to gauge their level of enjoyment of the game and stop when they tell you that they have had enough – usually by pulling away.
Other games: You can also kiss your baby, gently stroke your baby, say your baby’s name, and make funny faces with your baby. You might also try lying your baby on your bent knees and swaying them from side to side or gently bouncing them as you sing to them. Babies often are fascinated by hands and fingers, after washing your hands you can try wiggling your fingers and then allow them to explore them with their eyes or their own fingers when they are slightly older. You might want to use finger rhymes like “Two little dickie birds”, “open shut them” or “where is pointer?” Down the other end of your baby – you might like to play with your baby’s toes. Gently kiss them or tickle them or use some nursery rhymes such as “This little piggy” or “Shoe a little horse”.
You will see your baby watching you carefully, learning how to respond to you. These kind of interactions help your little one learn social skills, they build their self-esteem and develop their trust.
Rattles and Squeaky toys: Use a rattle or squeaky toy to gain your baby’s attention. You can buy a great variety in the stores or you can easily make your own using a plastic container such as a water bottle and filling it with different objects such as dried beans, lentils, pebbles, pasta, or buttons. Different objects will create different sounds so you might like to try a variety so that your little one is exposed to various sounds. Fasten the lid on securely to the bottle when you have placed the objects inside and secure with some tape. Check regularly to make sure that the lid stays securely in place. Rattles help a baby with their eye development as they track the rattles, later it helps them with their hand-eye coordination as they learn to shake and move the rattle around. Rattles also help them with head movement as they work to turn towards the sound.
3. Things to do with your baby: Out and about
Babies usually like being outdoors in the open air, it’s also good for their mums or dads to be out of the confines of four walls too. Try walking around outside with your baby in a pram or a carrier. Talk to them about what you can see around you. If you have a garden you might like to try putting your little one down for a nap outside in their pram in a shaded area where you can keep an eye on them.
4. Things to do with your baby: Baby Massage
Baby massage is a wonderful interaction to do with your baby. Before or after bath time is an opportune moment for doing this activity with them. All you need is a warm room, a dry towel and some baby oil or moisturising cream. You can use your change table or place them onto your knees as you sit on a sofa. Warm your hands up a little then pop a few drops of the baby oil or cream into your hands and gently stroke down your baby’s arms and legs. Turn your baby onto their tummy and massage their back with smooth strokes, keeping continuous contact with your baby’s skin with one hand or the other. Talk softly to your little one as your go. At first this interaction is likely to only last a few minutes, but you will be able to build up time spent doing this as they get older if they are enjoying it. If they seem unhappy, stop and try again another time.
5. Things to do with your baby: Tummy time
Tummy time is important for your little person’s development but not all babies embrace this time with enthusiasm at first. When just starting out just one or two minutes is enough, if they start to get unhappy just pick them up and try again at a later time.
Some things that might help with this time are:
Rolling up a small towel or blanket and laying your baby’s shoulders and arms just over the roll so that they aren’t flat on the floor, this makes it slightly easier for them to lift up their heads; say their name and make funny faces or funny sounds and mimic back any funny sounds or faces they might be making; sing to them and make sure they know you are nearby. As they get slightly older you can move about from one side of the to the other so that they have to work to track you, or use an object such as a rattle or a bright coloured or favourite toy to move back and forth slowly so that they need to work to follow it. You might also like to prop up a small mirror in front of your baby so that they can see their own reflection.
Tummy time helps them with their upper body development. It helps with eye contact. It helps with mimicking and listening skills. It also helps with building attachment and trust.
6. Things to do with your baby: Mirror time
Young babies are often fascinated with faces, especially their own, even though at this stage it is thought that they don’t recognise their face as being their own. Hold your baby in front of the mirror. Point and smile at your baby’s reflection. You might say something like “Look, there’s you” or “Look, there’s (baby’s name)”. Wait for your baby’s reactions and if they smile then give them a big smile back. You might also name different body parts, pointing at them or gently touching them. Mirror play gives opportunity for your baby to: study faces; mimic facial expressions; mimic sounds; read your emotions; express emotions. It helps them in building self-esteem, in listening and mimicking and in developing good attachment and trust relationships.
Other ways in which you can expand on this activity might include playing peek-a-boo using the mirror by angling your, or their face in and out of view. You might also look at photo albums containing their own photos or photos of people who they know. You can talk about who they are, or maybe about the emotions being shown on the faces. You could do the same with pictures of people’s faces from magazines or newspapers.
7. Things to do with your baby: Name Games
Say your baby’s name often, repeating it for a long as they seem interested. You can play a game by whispering their name in one ear and then swapping to the other ear. Before long your baby might start to turn around or smile when they hear their name. You can play Peepo using their name, “where is (baby’s name)?” and then “There’s (baby’s name)”. Refer often to yourself as “Mummy” or “daddy” or whatever name you are wanting them to call you to help them learn what to call you.
These kind of interactions help with building self-esteem, they help with developing a good attachment and trust relationship and they help your baby feel unique and special.
By Kathy Stirrup
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Kathy Stirrup, alongside her daughter Alexandra Newmarch, runs Phoenix Place, a counselling, play therapy and mothercraft agency in the south of Sydney (www.phoenixplace.com.au). Kathy has trained as a Mothercraft Nurse, Child Care Worker, Counsellor and Play Therapist, and has had over 30 years of experience working with children and their families. Kathy also has a family of her own with two now grown-up children and a teenager, and has recently welcomed her first grandchild.
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