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Baby Play for Newborns

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A headshot of Cara Dumaplin
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Cara Dumaplin

newborn baby laying on floor holding a toy showing

Baby play. It sounds so simple, right? It can be! But, if you’re unsure of what to do with your newborn, that’s okay too. Let me help! Let's talk about play for newborns.

What is play for a newborn?

In the newborn phase, play is ANY interaction that your baby has with you and the world around them. Play is actually one of the most important ways your baby can build connections, practice motor skills, learn language, and so much more!

How can I make sure I’m getting in enough play for my newborn?

Great question! In the newborn stage, it may feel like all your baby does is eat and sleep. You’re not crazy for feeling that way. For most babies who are 4-12 weeks, we use a wake window of about 60-90 minutes. This includes feeding, diaper changes, burping, and play. In those first few weeks, it might be even shorter! 

What does that mean about playtime? It means that play for newborns is often short and simple. Playtime doesn’t need to be elaborate or take up much time.

So Cara, what does playtime look like for a newborn then?

Face to Face Time:

Look into her eyes. Take advantage of those moments when your baby’s eyes are open and enjoy that eye contact!  Babies recognize faces early on, and your face is the first one she will love. Each time she stares at you, she's building an emotional bond. 

Stick out your tongue and make funny faces. Studies show that babies as young as 2 days old can imitate simple facial movements -this is early development of her problem-solving skills! 


Did you know that one of the ways that babies learn language best is through hearing more words? The more you talk, sing, and read to your baby, the more words that he hears and the easier it can become for him to develop language.  

Talk about everything! You can narrate as you change his diaper, give him a bath, get his bottle ready, and go about the day. This is a great way to add in some play during the time when those wake windows seem so quick! Make sure to leave short pauses where your baby would speak. Before you know it, he’ll catch on to the conversation.

Reading can also be a great way to expose your baby to language. In the newborn phase, you can certainly read baby books, but you can also read aloud anything that you happen to be reading at the time. I have a friend who used to read emails aloud to her baby.  


You might sing lullabies, your personal favorites, or songs that utilize moving their bodies to the song. You can search the internet for “favorite children’s songs,” “action songs for babies,” or check out this playlist if you need some ideas. Some examples might be the “Wheels on the Bus,” “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” or “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.”

Simple Toys: 

Everything is brand new to a newborn. Newborns love things that are high contrast. That means that black and white images are really interesting to them. You can find cards, books, and so much more. Play gyms are also a great example of simple toys that can provide opportunities for independent play.  Rattles or teethers can be an exciting thing to show your baby as their vision develops.  

Light and Music: 

Both light and music stimulate the brain for great awake time and brain growth. Often, swings are a great way to incorporate music and visual stimulation for awake times, especially during those tougher evening hours.


Babies love to look at themselves, and they love to look at babies. A mirror can be so captivating to your sweet girl during tummy time, while sitting on your lap, or while you are walking into the bathroom. Hold that mirror in front of her or prop it up and let her take a good look at her beautiful face.

Tummy time: 

Tummy time is so important for a baby’s development. One option is to use an activity mat, blanket, or another firm surface on the floor for tummy time. You can also lay back and have your baby tummy to tummy with you! This strategy can be especially helpful for those tummy time haters. 

Independent Play: 

It is perfectly ok to back off a little and let your baby explore the world on his own too! Don't be afraid to give your baby some independent playtime. This is important as it enhances your baby's ability to observe and explore without constant stimulation from you. 

Be sure you keep an eye out for sleepy cues to prevent an overtired baby!

Sleepy cues for newborns

Some parents find a product like these activity cards to be helpful! They provide specific guidance on newborn play ideas vetted by specialists in pediatric physical therapy and speech pathology.

Remember, we are meeting your baby right where he or she is developmentally: providing awake time activities AND that important sleep. I believe in flexible schedules, not rigid routines, and my newborn class is here to help guide you if you need it! 

I want you to LOVE the newborn phase. 


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