Learning, Play, and Your Newborn
What Is My Newborn Learning?
Play is the chief way that infants learn how to move, communicate, socialize, and understand their surroundings. And during the first month of life, your baby will learn by interacting with you.
The first thing your baby will learn is to associate the feel of your touch, the sound of your voice, and the sight of your face with getting his or her needs for comfort and food met. You can encourage your newborn to learn by stimulating your newborn's senses in positive ways — with smiles, smoothing sounds, and gentle caresses.
Even at this young age, newborns are ready to learn about the world around them. A newborn loves to look at faces, especially mom's. Likewise, in the first days and weeks of life, newborns can recognize their mother's voice. Your infant will respond to your voice (or other interesting sounds) by looking alert and becoming less active. The baby may try to find out where the sound is coming from by looking around and turning his or her head.
When you smile and talk to your infant, your face and the sound of your voice will become a familiar source of calm and comfort, and your little one will learn to associate you with getting nourishment, warmth, and soothing touch.
The "Rooting Reflex"
Babies are born with reflexes or programmed responses to certain stimuli, such as touch. These reflexes help ensure survival. But they also provide an opportunity for a baby to interact with the world. For example, the rooting reflex is elicited by gently stroking a newborn's cheek. The infant's response is to turn head and mouth to that side, ready to eat.
By the time they're 3 weeks old, babies will turn toward the breast or bottle not just out of a reflex, but because they've learned that it's a source of food.
Asleep, Active, or Alert?
During the first month of life, your newborn will spend much of the day sleeping or seeming drowsy. Over the next several weeks to months, your baby will mature and be awake or alert for longer periods of time.
It's important to recognize when your baby is alert and ready to learn and play and when your little one would rather be left alone:
Over the coming weeks and months, you'll learn to recognize when your infant is ready to learn or overstimulated.
Encouraging Your Newborn to Learn
As you care for your newborn, he or she is learning to recognize your touch, the sound of your voice, and the sight of your face.
In the first few weeks you may want to introduce some simple, age-appropriate toys that appeal to the senses of sight, hearing, and touch, such as:
Try toys and mobiles with contrasting colors and patterns. Strong contrasts (such as red, white, and black), curves, and symmetry stimulate an infant's developing vision. As vision improves and babies gain more control over their movements, they'll interact more and more with their environment.
Some Other Ideas
Here are some other ideas for encouraging your newborn to learn and play:
Keep in mind that babies develop at different rates, and there is a wide range of normal development. If you have any concerns about your newborn's ability to see or hear, or your baby doesn't seem to be developing well in other ways, talk with your doctor.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD