How to Interact with a Newborn

I was pretty clueless when my daughter was born. In 2000 I had never heard of tummy time or Baby Einstein. I followed my instincts and spent my time with her holding her, singing to her, talking to her, lying on the floor with her, going for walks and of course nursing her and changing a lot of diapers! I even managed to give her a bath every so often.

When teaching newborn care classes many parents ask me what to do with a baby all day (and night) long. The obvious basic care of feeding, diapering, bathing and dressing are clear to them but what else?

Here are some ways to interact with your newborn:

hold her

massage her daily

Touch is the most important sense in newborns. The more a baby is touched or held, the more it lowers her stress, promotes healthy weight gain, enhances her immune system and lowers her heart rate.

– do tummy time

Tummy time has many benefits including strengthening the back and neck muscles, which will help her learn to sit up, crawl and walk. Tummy time may also help prevent a flat head caused by sleeping on her back. Start tummy time as soon as you get home from your birth place. A few times a day, lay her down on her stomach on the floor for as long as she will tolerate it. Roll up a cloth diaper and place it under her chest, as she gets stronger: this will encourage her to push up and strengthen her muscles. Lay on the floor with her and rub her back if she becomes fussy. Let tummy time last as long as the newborn is happy. If she gets too upset try again at another time.

sing to her

Even if you don’t feel you have a great voice – your baby will love it!

talk to her

Newborns recognize their mother’s voice as soon as they are born and sometimes the partner’s as well. They will move their heads toward the origin of the sound. When talking to a newborn, be descriptive and use different voice levels. For example, when in the grocery store, tell her what you are doing, “I’m picking out three red apples to eat later.” Talking to her in descriptive ways engages her, teaches her about conversation and teaches her words. Begin this as soon as possible. People may think it is odd, but when the newborn is about a year old, she will understand many words and respond to them. This will make it easier to communicate with her and it is fun!

make eye contact

– get a mobile and bright-colored toys

A newborn’s vision is generally blurred, but she can see clearly about eight to fourteen inches in front of her. She is able to follow objects, but her eyes do not always work in tandem, so she may look cross-eyed at times. Newborns prefer black, white, and bright colors like red and yellow. They are also drawn to bull’s eye shapes like eyes and nipples. Newborns like faces especially and will also notice light, patterns, movement and shapes.

– go for walks

Getting outside is good for you both. It is a brand new environment for her to see, hear and feel. Wear her if you feel comfortable or use a stroller. You may find this helps her fall asleep also.

Finally, do what I did – follow your instincts! Trust that you are making good choices for your baby and family.

Lauren Ryan is a Supported Birth Childbirth Educator and Supported Birth Certified Doula who teaches childbirth education and newborn care at A Mother’s Haven and privately.