Activities and games to play with your baby

Baby playing

Activity time with your baby is key to his development and gives you both the chance to bond in a fun and playful way, encouraging communication and helping him to reach those first year milestones

Tummy time

Tummy time will help your baby strengthen his head, neck and shoulder muscles and is easy to do. Simply place him on a mat on his front, while he is awake obviously, and let him look around. Being placed on his tummy means he is forced to lift his head up and turn it to see. This will help him to develop key muscles that will eventually enable him to roll over, sit up, crawl and eventually walk.

Tummy time can also help to prevent your baby from developing a flat spot on his head. Parents are normally advised to put babies to sleep on their backs in order to prevent cot death. But spending lots of time on his back while the skull is still soft can lead to your baby’s head developing a bit of a flat spot, also known as positional plagiocephaly (or flat head syndrome). It's nothing to worry about but giving him the opportunity to spend time on his stomach can help to rectify this.

Always stay with your baby when he's doing tummy time, just in case he buries his face in the mat and gets stuck.

How to do tummy time

  • Choose a moment when your baby is happy, such as after a bath, a sleep, a feed or a nappy change.
  • Lay a blanket or towel on the floor before placing your baby down.
  • Start with just a couple of minutes and gradually increase it to three or four sessions a day of five minutes each. As your baby gets older your can increase this further until he is spending up to an hour a day on his tummy.
My daughter was very premature and her physiotherapist in hospital recommended tummy time. It paid off because she was lifting her head, crawling and walking at the same age as her peers when she should have been delayed.
  • Get down on the floor with your baby and make eye contact. Entertain him with toys or silly faces. Eventually he’ll start to reach for toys or look up further.
  • If he’s initially unhappy on his tummy, try starting with just a minute and build up slowly but keep persevering with it.
  • As your baby is low down, he’s in a prime position to come into contact with pets so keep dogs and cats away from him during tummy time.
  • Remember never to leave your baby unsupervised.

Baby massage

Massaging your baby is a great way to bond with him and soothe him but it also has many other benefits including:

  • Relieving discomfort caused by wind, colic and constipation. It can also help to soothe him if he’s suffering from teething pain.
  • Relaxing him and helping him to sleep longer and better
  • Giving your partner the chance to bond with him. When your partner isn't involved with feeding or other areas of your baby’s routine, they may be missing that opportunity to connect with your child. Baby massage can be a great way for them to bond.
  • Helping your baby to feel loved and attached.
  • Improving coordination through the massage of joints.
  • Helping you to better understand your baby’s body language.
  • Improving your confidence around caring for your baby.
  • Helping premature babies: massage can stimulate the digestive system and helps them to stay calm when the body is under stress.

How to massage your baby

  • Choose a time of the day when your baby is relaxed and happy. Don’t wait until he is due for a sleep to try and give him a massage. Good times to try are between sleeps and feeds or just after a nappy change.
  • Create a relaxing environment for him. Turn off the TV and your phone, put any pets or older siblings in the other room and perhaps play some relaxing music.
  • Make sure the room is warm enough and place a towel down to lie your baby on.
  • Choose a suitable oil or moisturiser. You can get a specially formulated massage oil, or just use baby or vegetable oil. Avoid heavily fragranced moisturisers or oils such as peanut oil, which can cause a reaction in babies with a sensitivity.
  • You can take his nappy off or leave it on, but have a towel or cloth handy in case of any accidents.
  • Keep eye contact with your baby and talk to him to soothe him. If it’s the first time you’ve massaged him then this will help to comfort him.
  • Warm some oil in your hands and start by resting your hands gently on the area you are going to massage. This helps your baby prepare himself for the massage.
  • Start on his feet, gently squeezing each toe. Massage in strokes from his toes to his ankle and then gently move his ankles in a circular motion.
  • Move up to his legs and stroke from his thighs down to his knees and then knees to calves.
  • Lie your hands flat on his chest and massage gently downwards against the curve of his ribs. Then turn him onto his stomach and do the same to this back.
  • Stroke down his arms, gently squeezing each finger.
  • Massage the crown of his head in circular motions downwards to his ears. From there, use gentle strokes down his neck and out towards his shoulders.

Observe your baby for signs that he is comfortable with the strokes and movements. If you don’t feel confident in massaging your baby using this technique, you could take a course under proper instruction.

Games to play with your baby

Once you have a baby, you can add ‘children’s entertainer’ to your list of talents. Games are a great way to entertain your child and to help him develop sensory and motor skills. Certain games are more effective at different ages.

Newborn to three months

  • Sing to your baby. This age is all about bonding. He needs security and the sound of your voice will give him this.
  • Tickle, tickle. Tickling his feet or playing games like ‘This Little Piggy’ will help provide sensory stimulation for him and also help to prompt those first smiles.
  • Surround him with bright, primary colours. When your baby is born he can only see in black, white and grey. His colour vision will develop by the time he is four months. You can help this along by showing him lots of primary colours, maybe by hanging a brightly-coloured mobile over his cot.

Three to six months

  • Peekaboo. This classic will keep your little one entertained for many more months to come. At this point he won’t yet be able to get his head around the fact that something can exist without seeing it. You can hide behind your hands or behind a nappy while you’re changing him.
  • Get his nose. Pretend to steal his nose between your fingers. Your baby will enjoy the physical interaction.
  • Clap hands. Bring your baby’s hands together to clap while singing to him. Getting him familiar with using his hands will help his motor skills. Your baby will also begin to imitate you and will start clapping his hands by himself.

Six to nine months

  • Give him a bucket of toys to empty out and fill back up again. This will improve his ability to grasp objects.
  • Read to your baby. Point to objects and characters in the book and repeat their names or make animal noises and point to the relevant animal. Babies love to imitate sounds and most will say their first word at around 12 months.
  • Place objects around him during tummy time. This will encourage him to extend his arms and reach for things. Moving a favourite toy just out of reach can encourage him to crawl.

Nine to twelve months

  • Building blocks. Now your baby can grasp objects, building blocks up and knocking them down again will help to teach him more about momentum and the consequences of movement.
  • Cushion obstacle course. It’s likely your little one is on the move by now. If he’s not walking, he’s likely to be crawling. Place some cushions around the floor and encourage him to crawl over them.
  • Bathtime play. Your baby will be sitting up by now and can enjoy bathtime more. Try giving him some toys to play with or containers that he can fill up and empty out – but never leave your baby to play alone in the bath.