You don’t need to wait until your baby is a few months old to start supporting their development. Even from birth, newborns are hard wired to seek connection from their parents. Your baby’s in-built skills in seeking attention are the most important way your baby will build skills in all areas of their development. Everyday, in hundreds of different ways, your baby is building their physical, social, emotional and communication skills. Lots of the time, you won’t need to do much other than look, listen and respond to your baby when they need some attention.
Look for your baby to
- Turn to your voice as you speak to them.
- Open and shut their eyes and focus on your face.
- Calm when they’re held and stop crying when you try to soothe them.
- Go to sleep in your arms and when they are feeding.
- Move their limbs in an uncoordinated, but active way.
- Demonstrate newborn reflexes e.g., startle, sucking, grasping, rooting and stepping. These early reflexes will go by around three months of age.
Ways to support your newborn baby’s development
Just spending lots of time with your newborn will help them to learn about the world and importantly, the people in it. In the early weeks, your baby is still getting used to ‘extra-uterine’ life. Feeding, sleeping, moving around and breathing for themselves are all major adjustments. This means they’ll spend lots of time sleeping, so they can conserve energy for feeding and growing.
Brightly coloured toys which make a noise are also a good way to support development. But don’t expect your baby to play with toys until they’re a few months old; you’ll need to help them until they’re old enough to interact with toys on their own.
Babies don’t learn how to control their movements for a few months, but until then:
- Offer your baby (supervised) tummy time when they’re awake from birth. Position them comfortably on a soft rug on the floor. Short periods of tummy time each day is better than one long session. If they don’t like tummy time, or it seems like they’re struggling, use a rolled-up towel on the floor or position them on your chest or tummy and encourage them to look up at your face.
- Unwrap your baby from their wrap a few times each day so they can move their arms and legs freely. Give them some nappy free time each day to kick freely.
- Massage your baby, especially if they are unsettled and need comforting. Any time of the day is fine for massage, as long as you’re not rushed and your baby can stay warm.
- Give your baby skin to skin contact every day. Even from birth, this type of closeness has significant benefits in terms of calming and connection.
- Don’t wrap or swaddle your baby too tightly and give them some room to move.
- Be sensitive to your baby’s “tired” cues, which are a sign that they need to sleep. Newborns can easily be overwhelmed and need some quiet time to calm and relax.
Social and emotional development
Babies learn how to be social creatures as a result of how they’re cared for, so:
- Talk and smile to your baby. Look for their responses and when they ‘talk back’, and copy the sounds they’re making. This is called ‘reciprocal engagement’ and will quite literally help your baby’s brain to grow and develop.
- Hold your baby as much as you can. This will help them to feel secure and safe and free up their energy to develop skills in all areas.
- Don’t limit your baby’s exposure to other people. However, it’s also important to be mindful of hygiene, particularly people who may be sick.
Communication is shared in many ways, not just through voice. Eye contact, voice and touch are all important ways you can connect with your little one – these are some other ways:
- Read to your baby, every day, even from birth. Share stories and show them pictures. Keep things simple and focus on what you both get out of this special opportunity.
- As your baby gets older, play peek-a-boo with them.
- Sing to your baby and don’t feel shy. When you’re changing their nappy and clothes, when they’re awake and when they’re going to sleep are all great times to sing rhymes and songs.
- Talk to your baby about what you’re doing. Of course, they won’t understand what you’re saying, though they will pick up on your tone and the intent of your message e.g. I’m here and close to you.
If you have any concerns with your newborn’s development or you feel they can’t hear or see you, have them checked by your GP or a paedatrician. Early detection of problems is important.
Written for Sudocrem by Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse – January 2022.