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Your baby is developing fast during the first few months. You can ensure optimal development by playing with your baby. Surprisingly, the best toy is you, the parent of the baby!
During pregnancy all the senses of the baby develops and the baby can use these at birth. The baby can hear and recognize the mother’s voice as well as her heart beat and other sounds of her digestive system. The baby can suck, swallow and breathe as well as perform some movements. However, the sense of vision can only develop after birth.
The baby’s visual cortex in the brain develops rapidly in the first few months after birth. This is the time when it grows, expands and makes sense of the visual world.
The objects that babies are most interested in are human faces. The intensity of the baby’s stare when you breastfeed or when you hold the baby close to your face is a clear sign of the interest in the human face.
Your baby is making visual images of your face in his or her brain. This image is associated with your voice. It is also associated with feelings of being comforted, of being warm and of being fed. Your baby is building an image of you. The first attachment is formed.
As the baby grows and develops, the play that you have with your baby, not using toys but using your voice, your facial expressions, your sense of touch will be one of the most important games that you can provide to encourage not only a healthy physical development but to build the bridges between you and your child for a strong emotional bond and a healthy relationship.
How do you play without toys?
- Make eye contact
- Meet the baby’s physical needs
- Hold, carry, rock, sing, talk and in general have your baby with you, in your arms, in a sling or within hearing distance when the baby is awake
- Talk and sing when you change nappies and when you bath and dress your baby, make these chores happy times and use it to build a strong emotional bond
- Play games where you move or rock the baby in different positions, look out for changes in head position which will trigger the development of the vestibular-proprioceptive system and pave the way towards a good posture and effective movement skills
- Massage your baby using different oils, fragrances and even textures (make sure it is safe to use and what the effect of fragrances can be on your baby, before the time)
Thus, no need to buy the expensive toys and equipment in the shops – use yourself and ensure the best emotional attachment with your child.
A mother who suffers from illness and/or postnatal depression generally finds it difficult to do the above. It can also be challenging when the baby is ill and the mother is tired and sleep deprived. Please do your best to play these games at least twice a day, even for a short period of time. A young unsettled baby cannot be “spoilt”, thus if your instinct is to comfort your baby by rocking the baby or by allowing the baby to sleep on your stomach for periods of time, do this as it will be beneficial for you and for the baby. You can consider sleep patterns and be concerned about diet once both of you have rested and are healthy.
Happy playing time!
Marga Grey is the author of Sensible Stimulation. She is an occupational therapist who practised in South Africa for almost 30 years, working mainly with children and their families. She presented many workshops to parents, teachers and therapists and through her work realised the importance of the first three years as a foundation for development. This was also her field of study for a Master’s Degree from Wits University. She currently lives in Queensland, Australia where she works at the university.