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 connect 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.
Even at this young age, newborns are ready to learn about the world around them.
Your newborn loves to look your face. Newborns can recognize and respond to mom or
dad's 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.
Encourage learning with smiles, soothing sounds, and gentle caresses. 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. Your little one will learn to associate you with
nourishment, warmth, and a soothing touch.
What Is the "Rooting Reflex"?
Babies are born with involuntary reflexes that help ensure survival. Reflexes also
are a way for babies to interact with the world. For example, gently stroking a newborn's
cheek will get the baby to turn the head and mouth to that side, ready to eat. This
is called the rooting reflex.
But by the time they're 3 weeks old, babies will turn toward the breast
not just because 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 be awake
and alert for longer periods of time. You'll learn to recognize when your baby ready
to learn and play:
A baby who is quiet and alert will be attentive and responsive and interested
A baby who is awake but active (squirming, flapping arms, or kicking legs) or
fussing is less able to focus on you. The baby may seem upset or cry when you try
to get his or her attention. These are signs that your baby may be getting hungry,
tired, or overstimulated.
How Can I Help My Newborn Learn?
As you care for your newborn, talk, smile, and interact with your baby. Pay attention
and respond to your baby's cues. For example, watch how your baby moves or starts
to coo back when you speak. Take turns "talking" to each other. This is how your baby
learns to communicate.
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:
unbreakable crib mirrors
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:
Put on soothing music and hold your baby, gently swaying to the tune.
Pick a soothing song or lullaby and softly sing it often to your baby. The familiarity
of the sound and words will have a soothing effect, particularly during fussy times.
Smile, stick out your tongue, and make other expressions for your infant to study,
learn, and imitate.
Use a favorite toy for your newborn to focus on and follow, or shake a rattle
for your infant to find.
Let your baby spend some awake time on his or her tummy to help strengthen the
neck and shoulders. Always supervise your infant during "tummy time" and be ready
to help if he or she gets tired or frustrated in this position. Never put an infant
to sleep on his or her stomach — babies should sleep on their backs to reduce
the risk of SIDS (sudden infant
Talk and read to your baby.
Keep in mind that babies develop at different rates, and there is a wide range
of normal development. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about how your
newborn sees and hears, or if you have any questions or concerns about your baby's