Stimulating Baby, Naturally
Conchita Amende, an experienced UK-registered health visitor, nurse, and midwife from Annerley Midwives, explains how parents can stimulate their babies using the world around them.
We know that the first eight months of baby’s life are prime time for learning but many of us are stumped for ways to stimulate and “play” with a baby. The usual fall back is to invest in some educational toys but the good news is that baby will do very well (if not better) if you use the world around you to help develop baby’s social and sensory skills.
The secret is to look at the world as your baby looks at it. Everything is new and interesting and who better to show baby how everything feels, sounds and looks than you.
Stimulating the senses
- Tummy time and rolling is beneficial for any baby. Let your baby play on a play mat after each feeding; sometimes even just a few minutes will be sufficient as babies get tired quite quickly.
- Keep shoes and socks off at least 50% of the time so your baby can move his or her toes and feet freely, and feel the textures of the mat or the floor.
- You can also take nappies off regularly to allow for the free movement of legs and hips.
- Babies respond very well to being massaged and it is a useful way to calm a fretful baby. Try massaging your baby at least once a day. You can use a light touch on the ears or head, or give him a full-body massage before a bath to help him relax and bond with Mum.
- Go out every day and give your baby a chance to experience different types of weathers, see different things (far away and close up) and explore different textures, colours and movements.
- If you are doing something (e.g. at the computer, eating, watching TV and so on), rather than holding your baby, try putting him in a bouncing chair close by where he can see you. This way, your baby will get used to being in company but without being constantly stimulated, and also helps him learn to amuse himself.
- As an alternative to watching you, put your baby in front of a window, mirror, or somewhere where “things are happening” so that she can learn to find interest in the world around her.
- When you are cooking or doing other tasks, place your baby in a chair somewhere close by and explain what you are doing. Make sure he is in a perfectly safe environment. When you talk to your baby, you don’t necessarily need to use a “baby voice”; just try explaining to him what you are doing as if you were talking to an older child.
- Sing or use nursery rhymes to calm your baby down. Not only do babies learn more quickly through repetition, but they’ll also calm down better if you do something that is familiar to them. Singing or integrating rhythm-heavy sounds has also been proven to help them develop and stimulate their speech development.
- If you cannot sing, don’t hesitate to use music from CDs or videos, but remember that your baby recognises your voice and will calm down better.
Other ways to stimulate your baby:
- Play pretend-animals; creep, crawl or jump and have your baby “follow” you.
- Hand your baby different materials to hold and handle. Practise “give and take” and talk to your baby while playing the game. Make sure that you don’t always hand everything to him; you should encourage him to reach for things as well.
- Simple things like clapping your hands or shaking keys will interest and stimulate your baby.
- Play bath games. Even pouring water from a jug at different heights can fascinate a baby.
- Use a “fit ball” or a bean bag, and play with your baby on top of it.
- Use kitchen utensils (safe ones, of course) or different items from around the house to make sounds with, and later for your baby to make sounds himself.
Note that unlike store-bought toys, the world around baby has not been ISO tested or safety certified, so you have to make these safety decisions yourself. Overall, just be sure that any items you use are large and will not cause a choking hazard, and that they are clean (but not too clean). Above all, be flexible and don’t expect too much of yourself or the baby. If your baby is feeling tired, slow down and relax.
3 - 4 months:
- Becomes aware of new or different situations
- Laughs aloud
- Can control the volume of crying
- Enjoys playing or frolicking
- Aware of many visual and auditory stimuli around
- Reacts to noise
- Starts babbling
- Can make the following sounds: p, b, d, m
- Uses voice when stimulated or playing
4 - 5 months
- Turns head and eyes to speaker
- Is aware of strangers
- Recognises familiar noises (e.g. his or her name)
- Self-initiates babble
- Stops babbling if another person starts speaking
- Adds more sounds: m, ng, h, oo, aw, oh
- Uses voice to show feelings of pleasure, satisfaction, and dissatisfaction
5 - 6 months
- Plays with noisy toys
- Listens to own voice
- Responds to the sound of a fallen object
- Makes noises when music is heard
- Uses voice when looking at his or her own reflection in a mirror
- Plays with babble, makes lots of sounds
6 - 7 months
- Recognises familiar people
- Understands and reacts by moving to words such as "come" or "up"
- Uses crying for attention
- Turns head and shoulders towards a familiar sound
- Recognises objects that signal an event (e.g. bib is feeding time)
- Closes lips after enough food
- Uses single syllable utterances: da, ma, bee
7 - 8 months
- Recognises and responds to his or her own name by stopping activity
- Appears to recognise familiar words
- Copies clapping and nodding
- Recognises the names of family members