Fresh Babies Can Play!

By Dr. Emily Spaeth, PT, DPT, CBS, CNT, LMT, TIP, NTMTC, RPYT
Infant Physical Therapist, Certified Breastfeeding Specialist

“Babies don’t know how to play…” My two-year-old said when I told her she could play with her new baby brother, giggling as she gazed at him and touched his nose…

Silly mom…

Turned out, this was the first lesson she got as a big sister.

Fresh babies can play, they need to, and you can help them!

It just looks a little different than kicking a ball around. And everything we do for a newborn should be twice as slow as we think it should.

Premier Doula Package, Portland Oregon
Birth First Doulas Team

Step 1: Eye contact.

Your baby wants to see your face. The contrast on your face: your eyebrows, the whites of your eyes, and your nostrils are fascinating! This is a great position for play- with your knees up, and baby on your thighs. The small dip between your knees guides baby’s head to stay in the middle, which helps to strengthen the deep stabilizing muscles in their neck. When they are experts at eye contact, try moving your head back and forth, slowwwwwly to help them learn to track you.

• Stick your tongue out (slowly)
• Blow raspberries
• Sing, talk, rhyme, read!
• Observe your baby
• Give lots of space for your baby to respond

Step 2: Touch

Touch is one of the first senses to develop in the womb, and something we take for granted as parents. Of course we touch our babies! But intentional touch can be incredibly important to babies. Consider learning infant massage from a qualified professional – or give it a try and see how it feels! The simplest way to start is to give gentle pressure on the sole of the foot with a mild oil (coconut, calendula, or grapeseed) from the heel to the ball of the foot- You might even elicit the toe grasp reflex like you see in this photo.

Remember that when you are massaging your baby, the goal is to respond to the cues your baby is giving you. Experiment to see what they enjoy (speed, depth) and if they are telling you no thank you, listen!

• Skin to skin
• Gentle foot massage
• Gentle hand massage
• Clockwise massage on the belly

Infant Foot Massage
Baby Grasping An O-Ball

Step 3: Textures

Your baby requires a diverse set of sensory input in order to figure out the world!

Babies will not be interested in ‘toys’ until around 3 months of age, but that is no reason not to provide them with opportunities to feel different things.

It’s important to offer toys rather than put things in your baby’s hand and shake it around. This gives baby the chance to discover on their own – encouraging them to continue exploring for a lifetime of self-discovery!  

Try offering:
• O-ball or Ogobolli (Lightweight round toy with holes. Won’t hurt when it falls on their face. Uses the hand grasp reflex in a functional way!)
• Crinkle toys
• Silk
• Burlap

Try laying baby on:
• Grass
• Sand
• Dirt
I know folks, babies are messy

Step 4: Floor time.

Your baby will gain strength when they are on a flat, hard surface. The floor is the safest place for that. When you go to put them down, the respectful way to do this is to let them know what the plan is!

“Hey baby, we are going to play on the floor together for a little while.”

I like to place a baby down on their back where they can still see me, and then let them know that we are going to spend a little time on our bellies together. Gently roll your baby to their side but make sure you are there- right there next to them while they are on their side, and you move to a position where they can see you when they end up on their tummy.

If there are two caregivers around, it’s nice to have a little tummy time party together as a family.

• Roll into tummy time rather than place baby on their belly
• Use eye contact, storytelling, rhyming, singing and most importantly, YOU for an engaging moment on the floor together
• Tummy time on your chest is a fun addition to floor time, but not a replacement!

The lesson for the two-year-old big sister ended with her learning that when she stuck her tongue out, the mirror neurons in her little brother worked such that he stuck his tongue out back at her. And a loving, silly, sibling relationship was borne.

Infant Foot Massage
Infant Tummy Time With Two Adults

Thanks for reading!

Dr. Emily Spaeth is an infant physical therapist, certified breastfeeding specialist, and trauma informed practitioner, with a background in neonatal physical therapy and prenatal and postpartum yoga.

Do you have a newborn who will be between 0-6 weeks old in October? Join me for a 4th trimester baby group at Birth First Doulas Education Center where we will build community, get to know your babies, connect with other families maybe learn something along the way.

I love questions, and I love conversation, and I want to collaborate! Contact me:

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