As I approach the 5th month with the new baby (already!) I was looking back and thinking of the ways that we “played”. There’s a lot of time in the day so how can you play with baby and what can you do all day long? Well, apart from nappy changes, sleeps, screams, baths and other practical “stuff”, here’s some ways we played together and some of the psychology/research behind activity ideas:
SOUND – COMMUNE
Face to Face time is a GREAT way to play. This means simply being face to face with baby and having a chat. You can talk about anything; something that you did that day or just make certain sounds with some over the top mouth-moving to show how you’re making it, like B-B-B-B-B-B, OOoooo.
→ → → Talk in a funny voice!
Talking is important but it’s a case of Quality, not Quantity
Talking in “parentese” – that baby talk that we do, characterised by higher pitch, slowed down and exaggerated intonation (6) – might irritate some but apparently it has it’s benefits; slowing speech down and exaggerating sounds, also introducing that “sing song” element to the voice is something babies like. It works well with very young babies according to this article who report that prevalence of baby talk with children (in one to one conversations rather than in groups) was linked to better language development,
The more parents exaggerated vowels – for example “How are youuuuu?” – and raised the pitch of their voices, the more the 1-year olds babbled, which is a forerunner of word production.
When the babies were 2 years old, parents filled out a questionnaire measuring how many words their children knew. Infants who had heard more baby talk knew more words
Again, communication is paramount so singing counts too. Apparently, from day one babies have an ability (innate) to discriminate rhythmic patterns. See this interesting article from Psychology Today for more but in sum, you can start in utero – around 25 weeks of pregnancy the baby starts to process auditory signals – which is why newborns may prefer their mother’s voice, because it is quite familiar to them!
Reading from birth is a great thing to practice, and has benefits. See my reading page for more in-depth information on the psychology of reading with babies and small children. In brief, baby will recognise their mother’s voice from the womb (1) and hearing it from day one may be familiar and comforting to them, reassuring them of your presence (2).
When we read we usually read with different expression and voices than when we talk and books/reading materials contain different vocabularies, words, expressions than what we might use in every day talk around our children. This is useful because it exposes the child to more varied language and sounds.
Reading to babies from the early months has been found (3) to be related to increased reading with babies at 8 months old (creating a reading habit), which in turn, related to language abilities at 12 and 16 months, particularly with expressive language (being able to put thoughts into words and sentences).
Interaction when reading has also been highlighted as an important element in relation to language development (4) with older babies (12 months).
Touching hands, touching feet – we did a lot of this in month one, mainly because his little feet were so cute. The baby and I are due to take part in a research study soon at a Baby Lab about whether infants in the early months can distinguish between a social touch and other touch. This will involve monitoring activity and touching baby’s arm with a toothbrush and then touching by hand.
Skin to skin is recommended and touch is going to be important! Research has reported increased touch to facilitate growth and development (cited in 5). Research on benefits of touch with premature babies has also influenced procedures in some hospitals such as use of “kangaroo care” where the baby receives skin to skin contact being held upright against the bare chest of the carrier (5). There is a huge wealth of literature out there about importance of touch and skin to skin with babies and infants which I encourage you to read further if this is an area of interest to you.
We also did lots of sensory play such as touching soft toys, a range of textured material and letting him touch/kick his little feet on some crunchy sounding tissue paper.
Mirroring, including mirroring noises and chatting, having a conversation
We spent a lot of time sticking our tongues out at each other! Given baby’s limited communication channels, this was something he was able to do and I sat there and “Mirrored” him, i.e. copying what he was doing and sticking my tongue out in response to him. This then turned into a kind of “conversation” where we would take it it turns. I then threw a few more facial expressions in and tongue clicks which seemed to interest him. This early study (6) writes that babies between 12-21 days old are able to imitate facial gestures, so you can try it from the first few weeks! Also loving the pictures in that article of the baby imitating “mouth opening” and especially the “lip protrusion”.
In terms of visual aspects and development, the visual system is not yet fully developed at birth (a). Baby has difficulty distinguishing between similar colours such as orange and red and so prefer high contrast colours such as black against white. We used several “high contrast” images and resources such as a black and white book and flash cards.
Let’s Face It
Babies love looking at faces; even in the days after birth a baby will prefer to look at images of a face compared to other images. YOU are their favourite play thing and baby will be very interested in staring at you whilst you sing/talk/coocheecoo at them.
YOU are your baby’s favourite play thing!
Mirroring and attachment:
Here’s a good video about “marked mirroring” with your baby. The page has described it nicely so I’ll just quote here:
Facial expressions that help a baby to know his feelings are understood are known as ‘mirroring’. Mirroring is said to be ‘marked’ when the parent mirrors the emotion then quickly ‘marks’ the interaction with a reassuring expression. Mirroring shows the baby that he is understood and reflects the feeling he is experiencing.
The’marking’ helps the baby know the feeling belongs to him and that the parent understands but is not overwhelmed and is therefore able to help him or her to manage such feelings.
(Warwick Medical School, 2014, http://www.your-baby.org.uk/early-interactions/marked-mirroring-showing-they-understand-their-babys-emotions).
Home activities: Tummy Time, Mirror Play, Play Gym
Tummy Time, play in the mirror and play gym were some fun and easy activities we tried at home. See links for more information on these activities. Play gyms for example have some great cognitive, visual perception, grasping and reaching skills, gross motor skills, self-awareness and sensory stimulation benefits as summarized in this nice article here by Mama OT. Personally, I could really see the baby developing in terms of gross motor skills, coordination and crossing his midline to reach out and grasp at toys.
Getting out and about
At first I remember it seeming very daunting and difficult on a practical level to get out of the house. Add two kids to the mix and there seemed like even more obstacles and things “to do” before we could get out the front door. However, there are many benefits and aspects for parent and child including social and mental health elements. Here’s a page about choosing activities and benefits of them for maternal mental health.
Lastly: Enjoy this time with baby!
- Decasper AJ, Fifer WP. Of human bonding: newborns prefer their mothers’ voice. Science. 1980;208:1174 –1176.
- Lariviere & Rennick (2011). Parent picture-book reading to infants in the neonatal intensive care unit as an intervention supporting parent-infant interaction and later book reading. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 32 (2), pp 146-152.
- Karras, J. & Braungart-Rieker, J. (2005). Effects of shared parent-infant book reading on early language acquisition. Applied Developmental Psychology, 26, 133-148.
- Julie Gros-Louis, Meredith J. West, Andrew P. King. The Influence of Interactive Context on Prelinguistic Vocalizations and Maternal Responses. Language Learning and Development, 2016; DOI:10.1080/15475441.2015.1053563
- Ardiel, E. L., & Rankin, C. H. (2010). The importance of touch in development. Paediatr Child Health. 2010 Mar; 15(3): 153–156.
- Ramírez-Esparza, N., García-Sierra, A., & Kuhl, P. K. (2014). Look who’s talking: speech style and social context in language input to infants are linked to concurrent and future speech development. Developmental Science, 17 (6): 880–891
a) Brémond-Gignac D., Copin H., Lapillonne A., Milazzo S. (2011). Visual development in infants: physiological and pathological mechanisms. Curr. Opin. Ophthalmol. 22, S1–S8.
Baby Friendly London, and tourist adventures! This is also relevant to the wellbeing and mental health page where I discuss various activity ideas for fun times but also to reduce cabin fever and increase mood. Be a tourist in your own town, or actually go somewhere and be a tourist, with or without baby.
Anyway – here’s some things the Little Lovely got up as a Tourist, Baby.
Kensington Palace, London, England, UK – Website here
Age when visited: 7 months, 1 week
Nearest stations: How to find Kensington Palace information here. It’s a bit of a walk from the tube stations but those around the palace are: High Street Kensington, Queensway or Notting Hill Gate. These stations are NOT step free, so might be difficult with a buggy. Nearest National Rail station: London Paddington (further away than the tubes, though).
Nearby attractions: Hyde park and The Serpentine Gallery are “behind” Kensington Palace Gardens. You’re also not that far from the museums (15-20 minute walk): The Science Museum, Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum (art & design) and The Royal Albert Hall (not a museum; concerts). Really, in tourist town, and beware these venues get crowded especially at peak times.
What is there to do?
Well, in honour of Price George of Cambridge’s first birthday (2014) we went to the Palace (Kate and Wills have an apartment here)! Well actually, it wasn’t in honour of his birthday, we were just going anyway but when we got there we saw some birthday banners and balloons up for him, as you can see in the pictures above of the Little Lovely outside the Palace gates.
Princess Diana’s Dresses: Look back at fashion as worn by HM The Queen, Princess Margaret and Diana, Princess of Wales.
Queen Victoria: Learn about her life and see what kind of toys they had in the nursery! We played with some of them (not the originals, I assume – see picture). I got told off for sitting on the carpet with no shoes on, though. So keep your shoes on. I’ll assume the baby was fine to go shoeless.
Other: Explore the gardens and Orangery – Works of art – the Queen’s State Apartments and King’s State Apartments. There is also a shop.
The pictures below are of the main entrance room, with LL posing under a picture of Princess Diana, then in the royal nursery playing with some toys, in another room in the palace, and then spark out and tired at the end of a busy day as a tourist, baby.
There is a cafe in the Orangery and Palace. I went to the Palace cafe and there are highchairs and kid’s meals available, such as children’s sandwich bags. If you want to bring your own food or do a picnic in the park the nearest shops are a bit of a walk away, and the cafe has tourist cafe prices, so stop off at the shops on the way if you prefer this cheaper option!
Baby and Toddler facilities:
There are changing facilities available. I don’t think there were any specific feeding or breastfeeding areas but a friend and I fed in the entrance area on some comfy seats and no one cared.
Accessibility for prams and those less able to use stairs:
There are lifts to most areas. Staff were very helpful and led me through a step-free route to view the fashion and Princess Diana’s dresses with my pram. I don’t know if this was a temporary arrangement or if this route is usually accessible without staff assistance. But either way, the staff were helpful and you could always ask if unsure. The website also writes that:
There is level access from Kensington Gardens to the palace, a lift to all floors and wheelchairs and portable seating to borrow during your visit. We also offer Describer Tours for blind and partially sighted visitors as well as facilitating British Sign Language tours.
In all, a reasonably baby friendly day out, and there’s the gardens/park to explore as well!
I understand it’s mother’s day in some parts of the world! It was mother’s day back in March for us, but regardless, hope everyone is having a lovely day and having their maternal achievements and input recognised, if that’s what you wish for.
Research on: does having children make us any happier?
The birth of a first and a second child briefly increases the level of their parents’ happiness, but a third does not, according to new research from LSE and Western University, Canada
“According to the research, published in the journal Demography, parents’ happiness increases in the year before and after the birth of a first child, it then quickly decreases and returns to their ‘pre-child’ level of happiness”
“Those who become parents between the ages of 23 -34 have increasing happiness before a first birth, however one to two years after the birth, happiness decreases to baseline or below.”
“The arrival of a third child is not associated with an increase in the parents’ happiness, but this is not to suggest they are any less loved than their older siblings. Instead, this may reflect that the experience of parenthood is less novel and exciting by the time the third child is born or that a larger family puts extra pressure on the parents’ resources. Also, the likelihood of a pregnancy being unplanned may increase with the number of children a woman already has – and this brings its own stresses.”
So – they’re not saying there’s any link between no increase in happiness and not loving or looking after the child! (phew). I like the idea of it being less novel though, kind of makes sense, or other social/economic factors that could affect the “third child” (or later children in general) such as pressure on resources.
Baby-Brain thinks: Of course, “happiness”, will depend on what you want it to mean and there are going to be many other “changes” that come with children – positive, not so positive (?!) or just differences to one’s life that come with such a significant thing as having a child!
Maternal wellbeing and mental health…. and paternal also. Let’s say actually that this is about “parent/caregiver wellbeing and mental health”.
Feeling a bit: “cabin fever”, hemmed in, fed up, stressed, low (depressed even)? – how to reduce these experiences somewhat during maternity leave or on an every day basis?
….do stuff. Sounds simple but I know that it isn’t always especially if one is stuck in a vicious negative cycle of low mood, lack of energy and motivation, overwhelming feelings.
Depending on your psychological stance, and mine believes in behavioural and cognitive theories, amongst others, there is a link between what you do, what you think, and how you feel. If you make changes to one of these areas (feelings, thoughts, behaviours), it will impact on the other areas. Doing stuff is therefore important because it will impact on your feelings and thoughts. This is a general Cognitive-Behavioural stance (see any references by Aaron T Beck, Christine Padesky, or just Google cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for more on this).
Getting out and doing stuff is important because:
It gives structure to your day.
- People usually like structure, the reliability of a weekly timetable where you know what to expect, when to expect it and to have certain anchor points to the week, for example, knowing that on Friday afternoon you go to that baby sensory class and see your friend the Nanny who looks after P the baby who is 4 months older than the Little Lovely.
You can plan enjoyable and meaningful activities, one gains a sense of achievement, mastery, accomplishment.
There are physical benefits such as getting more exercise, energy expenditure
- increased opportunity to talk to other mothers/parents/carers and to share and make normal (normalize) issues and experiences. increased opportunity to talk about and therefore learn and share your collective knowledge, experience and resources that you have built up from from your experience as a parent or carer. For example, the Nanny who looks after P the baby tells me about teething and comments on LL’s physical development and what she notices has changed from the last time she has seen him. She has cared for several children in her career so what she tells me is nice to hear because I have only cared for one child for a relatively short period of time!
The cost of those baby classes can add up. Some ideas for activities are:
Yes I know I just said they could be costly, but maybe there are 1 or 2 classes that you really like the sound of and just want to set aside some money to do those each week. If you do classes some tips I can think of are:
- Ask for a trial first, or better still a free trial! Many classes and companies offer this, or a special deal whereby if you pay for the initial class you get the money back if you decide to book more classes. LL and I have done a few free trial classes. Some we did sign up for more lessons and some we didn’t because I didn’t feel they were for us or at least I didn’t want to commit to buying 10 classes.
- Look for drop ins where you can pay by the session rather than being forced to sign up for a whole “course” or “term” of classes. I initially signed up for things like 10 sessions of a sensory baby class, and a term of a baby music class. To be fair, I did do a trial of the sensory class first but the music class didn’t allow it and I had to sign up for 12 weeks. This is annoying because unavoidably, baby is probably going to be asleep, ill, tired, screamy, any other thing you can think of to do with baby. You might also be ill, on holiday, can’t be bothered to drag you and baby out in pouring rain, etc, at some point during the time of the class over the 12 weeks and you will miss some. If any of the above things occur, you then feel compelled to try to make it to the class anyway “because you’ve paid for it!” and want to get your moneys worth. And that is stressful and annoying, at least that’s what I found. I also found I didn’t like the music class any more after about 4 or 5 classes, and didn’t think it was worth the price, but then felt unable to get out of the situation.
- I’m going to contradict myself slightly here – but if you HAVE to, or think it suits you better to sign up for a whole load of classes in one go then maybe see if there are any discounts to be had for booking several classes in one go. For example, the sensory baby lady let me have 5 more classes for the price of 4. Nice. I also booked a course of baby massage because it was cheaper to book the whole lot than pay by the class plus I got an additional 10% off. I have to add though, I booked these things right at the beginning of my maternity leave before I had experience of these kinds of things.
- Cheap and Cheerful activities – such as a local play group that might ask for a token or small fee. For example, LL and I go to a playgroup in a local community centre where there are toys, soft play and then we all get in a circle and sing songs together and it only costs a couple of quid.
Free opportunities – using local free resources, from local services or other initiatives
Check your local library for what activities they have. The ones near me do weekly groups for babies under 18 months and another for toddlers where we sing songs (like row row row your boat), nursery rhymes and there are toys put out for the kids. You get to meet and chat with other mums local to that area, entertain and bond with your child.
- Local authorities and children’s centres also have free or heavily discounted play groups and activities such as “under 5’s soft play drop ins” and “under 1’s” sessions that usually just involve some toys, soft play, mats on the floor where baby can play safely and you can also meet other parents/carers.
- Local or national initiatives – e.g. Parenting courses – some councils run free or discounted courses
- I’m not sure what to name this point, but LL and I managed to do a free short course of baby massage because the teacher was in training and needed to run a real live group as part of her training requirements. I came across the opportunity when we were attending another activity and the trainee was there looking for parents she could sign up.
- What’s around in your local area? Go on a sensory walk with baby and see what you can see, smell, touch, (taste?!), hear. Make stories about what you experience, as you experience it and afterwards, e.g. “do you remember when we saw that cat – wasn’t he happy, didn’t he purr, did you smell him! Wasn’t he soft” – etc etc. Even talk about what you’re going to do before hand and get baby curious.
- Is there a sandpit – a zoo or animal centre – a park – or other free resources to visit?
Specific activities or groups
- Baby feeding drop ins – some areas will have breastfeeding support groups that meet weekly. I hear that these can fill up quickly though, so once the room has enough mothers in it then you might have to wait.
- There are also specific groups for certain members of a community such as deaf children and their parents/carers, special educational needs, dads/male carer groups, and so on
- Just arranging to meet for a coffee with a friend, another parent, family member, or make it lunch even!
- NCT groups, e.g. bumps and babies. Look up your local branch and find events here. Find out where your local group meets (mine meets in a pub!) – turn up and off you go – you can meet other local parents and there are usually some toys out to entertain the babies. Yes I know it can be daunting to go somewhere new and you might not know anyone there. I turned up at mine not knowing anyone at all but I had NOTHING in my schedule for Mondays and needed to get out of the house. I ended up having a really nice conversation with another mother about breastfeeding and the early months of LL’s life, and she had similar experiences to me. I have also since seen many of the mothers there at other local groups like the free library nursery rhyme singing group. So you get to see the same faces about and make contacts.
- Going to the park with another mum/parent/family, and having fun on the swings (if your baby is old enough for swings!)
NOT BABY RELATED (gasp)
- Plan in some “baby free time” to your schedule to ensure you are doing something different and even linked to your pre-baby life such as seeing old friends. Arrange to meet for a drink, dinner, chat with a friend or two, maybe old work colleagues or people you used to know before you were a parent who, gasp, don’t have children(!) and talk about non-child related issues.
- Or, just go out and sit in a coffee shop, read the paper, eat some cake and enjoy some alone time.
- Take a bath and read a book
- Go on a date with your significant other – if you can find a babysitter or helpful family member
What if I’m not sure I can do these things? What if I’m not sure about or have concerns about socializing with others – what if i’m worried it will all go terribly wrong?
- That can be normal
- Sometimes things don’t turn out as bad as we expect them to be
- Can you try something and see how it goes?
- If something seems too big or too much – can you break a goal down into smaller steps and try step one and see how that goes?
- Can you predict what obstacles will get in your way to trying something and make plans or have ideas of what to do to address these?
- Who can support you in trying one of your ideas/activities?
I’m sorry for not providing any links but any I provide would be specific to my local area so they won’t help much.
- I’d suggest contacting your local library, children’s centre or council to find out more, or look at their websites. Also, ask other parents what activities they have found as LL and I have found and been recommended several things just through word of mouth
Please do not use the information posted here as a substitute for personalized mental health advice and treatment. Please consult your GP or any other relevant health care professional if you or those who know you are concerned about your well-being and mental health.