What do you do with a baby who's interactive but pre-crawling?
February 3, 2011 4:07 PM   Subscribe

I never feel quite sure about how my 5 month-old daughter should be spending her awake time. I'm looking for parents to chime in on what's normal and appropriate in terms of both quality and quantity.

I have a constant nagging worry that my 5 month old may not be getting enough interaction. I'm staying home with her for the year, and it's just the two of us for most of the day. I usually cycle through a bunch of activities, so that the routine looks something like this (minus eating and napping):

1/2 hour:sit with mommy on the couch while watching tv, talk, cuddle, tickle, bounce on knee
1/2 hour: jumparoo (although she doesn't get how to jump yet)
1/2 hour: lay on back and play with hanging down toys
1/2 hour: play in exersaucer
5 min: spend hated time on tummy
1 hour: sit in swing and play with hanging down toys while watching tv

She often falls asleep in the swing (I rock her if not) and after the nap, we repeat. Sometimes while she's occupied in the big commercial toys, I do my own thing (watch tv, surf web, read, knit, clean, cook), but often I feel guilty while I'm doing it. So I try to sit near her in the rocking chair if possible and talk to her every so often. Sometimes I take her around and show her stuff in the house.

So, I'm likely overthinking all of this and worrying too much, but am I doing this right? I don't know other people with kids, so I'm really not sure. Are there improvements I could and should be making in the routine? For what it's worth, she's a pretty darn happy baby.

If you can recommend any books, websites or podcasts that can help me with this, please do. Otherwise, I just want to hear your thoughts and what you have done with your own children.
posted by kitcat to Health & Fitness (54 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I'm not sure I got to the heart of my question above. What's really bugging me is that I'm not much of a talky person, and playing and talking bore and exhaust me quickly. Am I interacting with her enough? How can I even know from her whether or not I am?
posted by kitcat at 4:14 PM on February 3, 2011

Father of 15 month old daughter and from my recollection and experiences with other parents of babies (quite a few of us around here), it sounds like you're getting it all right!

For what it's worth, she's a pretty darn happy baby.

That's everything you need to remember right there.

Some babies lap up attention and crave it. Others are quite solitary. As long as you don't totally let them take the lead (that is, you don't coddle a social baby or abandon an independent baby all day) and give them some variety, you're good to go IMHO.

Our daughter didn't have any interest in socializing beyond the basics until almost a year of age. Up till that point, she totally ignored other children and babies and seemed to have no real "bond" with any adults, even us! In just the last few months, though, she's blossomed and is very social while still demanding plenty of time on her own (which she seems to relish - but I'm a full-on introvert too so I get it..)
posted by wackybrit at 4:16 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mostly she should just be looking at stuff around her, and listening to stuff.

I am also not talky and get tired talking a lot, but I used to narrate what I was doing for my babies ("I'm gonna pay the electric bill now! Yay!"). I also used to play NPR a lot, so my kids have a sort of Pavlovian response to the Talk Of The Nation theme.

Don't overthink it. She'll let you know if she needs something.
posted by padraigin at 4:17 PM on February 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

What's really bugging me is that I'm not much of a talky person, and playing and talking bore and exhaust me quickly. Am I interacting with her enough?

If she's "pretty darn happy", I say so.

One thing that helped us in this regard was watching documentaries about how babies are brought up in different cultures. Among the nomadic people on the Asian steppes, it's quite normal to swaddle a baby and strap it to the back of a horse for hours at a time! If your baby is genuinely "happy," it's doing great - they're resilient little blighters as long as you keep them topped up with love and good intentions.
posted by wackybrit at 4:19 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

When my kids were that age I'd put them in their high chair/bouncer/exersaucer while I did chores.

While I was doing my thing I would usually try to narrate. "Mommy is doing dishes now. Mommy hates doing dishes. Mommy is so glad we have a dishwasher, it makes life so much nicer. See this pretty cup? Daddy and Mommy got this cup as a wedding present. See this pretty platter? Mommy found this platter at a yard sale for $1! One dollar! Isn't that awesome? Mommy is pretty proud of herself. What should we make for dinner? We have some chicken, should we have chicken? Daddy likes chicken........" Basically like talking to myself.

Of course the narration is broken up by long stretches of silence where the baby is doing their own thing, but if I switched activities I'd try to give another run down of what I was doing. I also like listening to music while I'm doing housework. My kids always got a kick out of my crazy person dance steps. They'd sit in their high chair and giggle at me, eventually joining in with their own head bopping and arm waving.
posted by TooFewShoes at 4:28 PM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Reading to your daughter seems to be notably absent from your schedule. It doesn't even have to be baby books.

I am not a parent, but I work with young children who have trouble reading and writing. One point that seems to be emphasized over and over again is that a love for books can and should be nurtured from birth on.
posted by halogen at 4:28 PM on February 3, 2011 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: I do read to her a little, but she doesn't seem to enjoy it all that much.
posted by kitcat at 4:32 PM on February 3, 2011

Get lots of board books, our son started to turn the pages as we read around that age, and now if I let him turn the pages, we can read for 30 minutes at a time.
posted by markblasco at 4:35 PM on February 3, 2011

That's exactly how I felt. I tried really hard to talk to her a lot even though I'm not very chatty at all. I do know that sometimes babies will look away when they've had too much interaction. You might have seen that with other people (chattier ones) who keep following a baby's face and trying to keep the baby's attention even when the baby is trying to turn her head away.

What I did to increase our interaction was to describe to her what I was doing. "Mommy is folding laundry. Look, this is Daddy's favorite shirt." I know it sounds totally insipid. But I figure hearing more words can be a good thing.

I also sang to her a lot when she was a baby, as did my husband. For what it's worth, one of her first full sentences was, "Stop singing." So with the next kid, I don't think I'll stress too much about providing constant entertainment.
posted by Knowyournuts at 4:35 PM on February 3, 2011 [11 favorites]

I try to get outside with my baby (now 9mos) at least once a day, in between major naps. Some days we go to library storytime (at about 6mos it go better when she could sit up and started getting into the books), but sometimes I just go out for a coffee, browse the local stores or take a walk around the block. I use a carrier inside my winter coat and I often sing and talk to her. Sometimes we go on the bus, which she seems to love. In any case, it does break up the day and it seems to go faster than sitting and watching her sit around!
posted by MissSquare at 4:38 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sounds like everything is good. I have 3 kids, now 13, 11 and 9 and they're all as normal as can be expected.

The big thing.. big big big.. is to have a schedule and stick to it.. sleeping and eating-wise. Even if they fuss, it's their nap time or sleep time, then let them fuss.

But stimulation-wise.. no worries. 5 months? They just wake up, look around and go: "Something new! look! Something else new! look! And something else! Damn, I'm tired."

Sing, talk.. bring them out and around.
posted by rich at 4:40 PM on February 3, 2011

nthing the silly narration... do it a few times a day, don't stress if you forget it. I did this in kind of a normal voice, and did not use baby talk.

I noticed my son didn't like being read prose very much but loved rhyming stuff... Dr. Seuss and such.

One other thing, when the weather is good, going outside is magic. At least it was for my son. He really enjoyed looking at clouds, trees, etc. whether in the stroller or if I dragged his playpen outside. Of course, keep her out of direct sun, etc. You know the drill.
posted by tuesdayschild at 4:41 PM on February 3, 2011

IMHO that is way too much time in stuff (jumperoo, exersaucer, swing). IMHO those seats are for placing baby in while parent must pee, cook, etc. They are not good for development.

Otherwise floor, arms, carrier.

My deal was blanket on floor with 4 toys in reach.
posted by k8t at 4:41 PM on February 3, 2011 [6 favorites]

Yes, it's a weird time where it seems like they're really noticing stuff but at the same time can't really do much. You'd be surprised how fascinating a sunbeam on the floor or a pretty picture can be to a baby of that age. Just keep lots of interesting stuff to look at (though I'd, if I were you, significantly reduce the television exposure), talk to her a lot and narrate what you're doing, and just generally be around. Reading is also good, even if the baby doesn't appear to "like" it. Consistency doesn't have to a bad thing, babies like routines but changing things up and giving them a chance to experience new stuff is also good.

You're allowed to take some time for yourself when the baby is occupied with a toy or spacing out. That's totally okay and teaches the baby to entertain itself. If you're always providing the entertainment, the baby will come to expect that and could become dependent on you for all entertainment. Benign neglect can be a good thing!
posted by otherwordlyglow at 4:52 PM on February 3, 2011

Seconding what tuesdayschild says about outdoors, do that as much as possible.

Also, as a mom and grandma, I'd recommend you limit television as much as you can. Music of all kinds is good.
posted by mareli at 4:53 PM on February 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

The word you want is "stimulation" which doesn't have to be "mommy talking." So if she's got a little toy to play with and chew, maybe one that makes a soft noise, and she's watching you putter about doing your thing, maybe the radio is on and talk to her from time to time, and she can flap her arms and legs.... well, she's good! And so are you! Over the course of the day, she's likely moved around from place to place, picked up and held, changed, fed, bathed, cuddled, all that stuff. Going out to the doctor, the grocery store, the park. Lots of sensory stimulation happening. Well done!

On preview, I don't think "that is way too much time in stuff." Lots of different viewpoints on these things. (Respectfully offering a different opinion.)
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 4:54 PM on February 3, 2011

We went on a lot of hikes/walks/errands/etc. with him in the Baby Bjorn at that age ... he LURVED facing out because he was social king of the universe and there was so much to look at and so many people to talk to. Just a trip to the local historical society was pretty much the best outing ever and kept me from losing my mind.

I gotta tell you, at six months, mine thought the FUNNEST THING WE EVER DID was going to these fairly boring, hour-long meetings I had to go to every week or so for the building committee for the school board. He'd sit on my lap facing the conference table, look at everyone who talked, and periodically babble back. Which threw off some of the architects, they weren't used to baby babble in presentations. He was as good as gold because being able to watch all these people TALKING was just the highlight of his week.

BTW, this level of "OMG WHAT NOW?" desperation, common to many at-home parents, is the exact reason that mommy-and-me classes, moms groups, and playdates were invented. They're not for the babies to play, they're for the moms (and dads!) to see other grown-ups and the babies to see more and different human faces talking.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:57 PM on February 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

The only thing I would personally change is TV time. In my experience with multiple small children, TV (and some electronic toys) wrecks their attention span and makes them less likely to engage with other activities.

As they move into toddlerhood, it makes them whinier and much less able to entertain themselves.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV for children under 2 years old.

I personally would recommend that you cut it out completely, or if that doesn't work for you, cut it down to 15 minutes. Multiple hours of TV a day is too much. She would probably be happy in the swing with her toys without the TV.

Other than that, sounds fine. 5 month olds are perfectly happy to sit around while you knit or do whatever.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:59 PM on February 3, 2011 [8 favorites]

You sound like you're doing great, but here are some ideas that might add to both of your days.
1. Finger games, eensy-weensy spider, peek-a-boo, etc. You won't get bored because she'll laugh her head off.
2. Let her touch stuff with textures -- crinkling up a piece of paper is an entire world of fascination. Of course, at this age, she will also eat it.
3. Let her look at things up close and feel them -- different kinds of clothes, pictures, etc. I remember it was better than any kind of outta site trippy woodstock moment to groove on the utter artful beauty of an orange juice container seen through the eyes of my infant.
posted by keener_sounds at 5:03 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are some great books that have textured elements to them that are much more fun for them to "read". Example: That's Not My Puppy!

I also love Karen Katz's books with flaps, like "Where Is Baby's Bellybutton?"

I personally don't think you need to read a million times a day if she's not interested, but I'd try a book a day just to see if one clicks. Their tastes change so rapidly at this age!
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:10 PM on February 3, 2011

You're doing great! I'd add the following to your rotation: some time outside and music. Throw some kids' songs on an mp3 player or fire up pandora.com on your computer (Wee Sing and Raffi come to mind, and did you know that John Lithgow sings kids' songs???). Don't feel guilty spending time on your interests! Your sanity is a crucial prerequisite to a happy family!

[My qualifications: I have a 4 year old, 2 year old, and 4 month old.]
posted by ellenaim at 5:10 PM on February 3, 2011

Staying home doesn't have to mean -- shouldn't mean -- staying home. Get out, just about anywhere's good. Put the kid in a soft carrier so she's closer to the conversation (smells, sights, etc).

Do think about what you want to be doing with her in a year. Sitting in front of Dora, or listening to her squeal as you roll up to the beloved natural history museum? The groundwork for that stuff gets laid now.

An hour of teevee at five months is nuts; there's just no reason for it, zero benefit to the kid and it'll set you up for a couch-potato toddler.

I had an Exersaucer but it lived in the bathroom so the kid had a place to hang out while I had a bath. A Jumperoo for a non-jumper...yeah, it's a lot of what amounts to playpen-ing.

Are you okay? This sounds like a lot of routine and drudgery. Again, get out; I can't stress that enough. You don't have to go to baby-oriented anything. Lots of office workers find lunch with a baby to be a great novelty; go see a friend for lunch, give the baby the cucumber off the top of your salad and let her thrill to staring at waiters. If you do not drag the kid out into the adult world you will go crazy; ease up on the "hanging down toys" and get into building up your record collection and introducing her to music. "Benign neglect" can be useful if useful things are going on. Nothing valuable happens when staring at the same old toys, but there're all sorts of things to learn if you're out and about in the world. You don't have to narrate the entirety of the art gallery every week; going to the mall's fine...

Keep at the books. Try magazines with photographs of people. Read her the newspaper. Don't feel like you have to animatedly go through Sandra Boyntons cover to cover; you just want to sell the idea that there's something good in the pages, which might mean "People" magazine and endless looking at one panda cartoon. All good.

(The stuff about "tummy time" is sort of a myth -- if she hates it, don't do it. Put her on your chest... Babies have slept this way and that throughout history and they never suffered from lack of "tummy time" before; it's one of those things that sounds good in theory but doesn't have a lot of research to support it)
posted by kmennie at 5:25 PM on February 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

You don't need to feel like you have to entertain her constantly whether that's with stuff, TV, or always talking to her, don't worry about that! Mine were all capable of laying on their tummies on a blanket on the floor at that age for a good 15-20 minutes looking at toys, by themselves (by which I mean while I did chores or otherwise took some time for myself nearby). I figured it helped them learn to entertain themselves from early on and I think it did - which is great for both you and them.

You don't go out at all? I know it's winter so walks are probably not on the agenda too often, but what about going to playgroups, mommy & me, singing activities, anything at the library? Check out what's going on in your area, through the community centres or churches, there's usually plenty of free stuff and parent/baby meetup type of groups like these. They're good for your sanity and they're good for the baby too even if she isn't particularly social or interested in other kids yet (most of mine weren't at that age). It also helps break up your day and it's good to have a routine while you're at home with kids, at least, what routine you can make around a baby's schedule (since they are always changing things up!). You can walk around the mall with them in the stroller or a carrier; you can find an indoor track that has mommy/baby walking time; take them grocery shopping with you and get them used to going out along with you as you do whatever you want or need to do.

I honestly spent a lot of time doing things with the baby in my lap and occasionally talking to them like reading on the computer, carrying them around with me/sitting them in their car seat while I did chores, rocking them while I talked on the phone, etc. They're pretty happy just to be held or be somewhere close to you a lot of the time, in my experience, without you having to be directly entertaining them. Don't feel guilty, you're doing fine. Make sure to take time for yourself when you can and when you need it!
posted by flex at 5:39 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

nthing everyone above. At this age, she will love just getting out and doing what you do.

When I was home with my little one I just divided up all of my errands into small chunks and took her out over and over again in the course of a day. (easy for me, though, I live in New York). Just watching you interact with the world is an awesome learning experience.
posted by gaspode at 5:51 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm not a parent, but I've been a nanny and I know what it's like being alone with an infant all day and waiting for an adult (any adult!) to come back home. As others have suggested, the thing that saved both my sanity and the baby's was going outside. Getting ready can be a bit of a production, especially in winter, but even that part burns time and is stimulating. My charges always loved Starbucks: good people watching, lots of cooing, and they got to drink a bottle while I got some caffeine.

One thing that takes a fair amount of time is the pointing game. Holding her in your arms, take her around the house and point at things. Like, "look, baby! this is the lamp. Lamp. Laaamp." Then say, "can you point to the lamp?" Five months is just on the edge for this, but it's awesome when they finally get it. They get so excited!

At around 4 o'clock we'd turn on some music (Big Red Car is forever seared into my consciousness) and have a dance party while we counted down the time until the parents came home.
posted by charmcityblues at 6:05 PM on February 3, 2011

In most cultures women carry their babies around all day in some sort of sling. The babies are then up closer to face level and get to see what goes on in the adult world.

Our culture is kinda weird (compared to the rest of the world / most of human history) in its expectation for babies to spend so much time hanging out in a crib or on the floor or in some other place other than held by or attached to an adult.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:12 PM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Mirrors are fun.
posted by emeiji at 6:23 PM on February 3, 2011

Response by poster: I thought I didn't have to worry about tv until she grew to be old enough to nearly 'get it', but I see that it can't be good for her attention span and that she might forgo a toy for looking at the pretty screen...advice duly noted.

And with the reading, I will try a picture book every day until she catches on to it. If I just read my adult stuff aloud, she looks away - clearly not interested.

As for going out, it's the heart of winter and I don't drive, so we haven't been going out often. But there are warmer days here and there, and I should be absolutely taking her on the bus to the mall every chance I get and to other places when spring comes.

Thanks for the good advice :)
posted by kitcat at 6:32 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Baby story time at the libraries is a godsend. I've been going to two different ones each week (at two different libraries), and I'm going to add in a third starting next week. The other two mornings a week if we don't have anything planned we go to the mall before all of the shops are open and do a few laps. There are a ton of people there, and lots of parents with babies to talk to.
posted by markblasco at 6:34 PM on February 3, 2011

I felt the same way and I wasn't home with my baby all day! I kept thinking, "I have to give him more than he would be getting at daycare." and it had me second-guessing myself all the time. Just wait, it won't be long and your daughter will start changing and interacting and variety will start to come naturally. Every stage is temporary.

One thing I did was go to the library and find some books on activities to do with babies at different ages. It gave me something to work towards. He's supposed to be able to roll over at x weeks? I worked on encouraging him. I don't know if it helped him achieve the milestones, but it gave me something to think about as we interacted, and I second guessed myself less.

Reading is so good for them. We read to our son since he was born and sometimes I take out a book we haven't read to him since he was a little baby and you can tell that he recognizes it, even though he barely seemed to pay attention to them when he was tiny.
posted by k8to at 7:02 PM on February 3, 2011

I put my girl(s) in a baby seat on the kitchen counter when cooking, in a seat on the table or desk when I was working, on a coffee table facing the chair or couch when I was reading, or just facing me when I had her in my lap, had time and she was wide awake and wanted to interact. Babies love faces and no face is more interesting and satisfying to a baby than her mommy's. No voice, no smile more familiar. You don't have to carry on a conversation with her or always engage with her, but when you do, even just looking up from your book or computer, it's so much more natural to interact when she's facing you and more at your level. You'll find yourself getting responses to your smile, to a funny face you make, a kiss you blow, a quick tickle--especially things you repeat and she learns to expect with delight...and as you do these things and she responds, you'll learn the things she enjoys best about interacting with you. Face time between mommy and baby is lovely at her age. I'm not suggesting that you are constantly 'on' and need to interact all of the time, just that she have a little more time facing you and getting to gaze on the most interesting and loved face--for her--in the world.
posted by mumstheword at 7:10 PM on February 3, 2011

Best answer: kitcat - I am in Edmonton and am also home on mat leave with a 5-month-old (soon to be 6 months old). Feel free to message me if you want to get together for a playdate somewhere in town!

We get outside pretty much every day, even when it's really cold thanks to our awesome snow-worthy stroller and a baby snowsuit that's rated to -30. I also don't drive but find if we bundle up really good and plan our bus routes well so we're not waiting too long, then we're fine.

We've been going to the free programs run by the Edmonton Public Library since my son was 4 weeks old. At that point it was more for my sanity than his enjoyment, but now that he's almost 6 months he's starting to "get it." Check out their website to see what is available at your local library.

Other stuff we do (or have done in the past):
- Strollercise or swimming at the Kinsmen Sports Centre (they have a nice warm pool that is great for babies)
- Post-natal yoga - There are at least three studios in town that offer this. We went to Lotus Soul on Whyte.
- Coffee at Cafe O Play
- Stars and Strollers movies at West Edmonton Mall
posted by sanitycheck at 7:46 PM on February 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

One thing we did with my son is found board books of kids songs - the singing was more interesting than us reading, and you're still doing the turning the pages in time with the words thing. We started that as a bedtime routine really, really young, and it was always a really nice part of the day.
posted by lemniskate at 7:51 PM on February 3, 2011

Oh, also, if you have a baby carrier that you can wear on your back you could wear your daughter while you do stuff around the house. We have an ergo baby carrier that I have been using on my front since my son was about 4 months old. Last month I started using it on my back too and it's amazing how much I can get done around the house while still having him so close to me!
posted by sanitycheck at 7:54 PM on February 3, 2011

Even if they look away, reading to babies is still super important. they don't have a developed attention span in order to do what adults recognize as "interested", but they can still hear you and their brain is still taking in info, which leads to better talking/response in the future.

also, i know it's really difficult for parents to watch their kids get upset or cry, but tummy time, and lots of it, is really really really REALLY important. kids who don't get a lot of floor time have a much harder time developing their motor skills i.e crawling, then to hands and knees, walking, etc. it might be difficult at first, and sure they cry because they're not used to it, but they get used to it and in my experience really love it. tummy time + stimulation with toys/flashcards (it really never is too early, plus the pretty pictures that they love!) is fantastic for them.
posted by assasinatdbeauty at 8:03 PM on February 3, 2011

Nthing no TV or very, very little TV. Several studies (here's one reviewed in Time Magazine, for example) have suggested a link between watching TV and inhibited language development. Additionally, as someone else mentioned, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends absolutely no TV at all for children under age 2. Long story short - there's no benefit at all to watching TV at that age, and it may possibly inhibit language development. I'd cut it out entirely.
posted by pecanpies at 8:16 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

tummy time, and lots of it, is really really really REALLY important

Do you have a source for this? I have not seen anything to lend credence to the "tummy time" theory. The evidence seems to support that one can delay physical development by restricting infants (but even then, they catch up quite quickly once unswaddled or whatever), but there's no way to accelerate it; you don't actually speed things up by flipping them over, nothing happens then that wouldn't happen when they learn to roll themselves over.

(And please don't do flash cards)

"it's the heart of winter and I don't drive" --> I was there, I did that! I got a tall pair of Sorels, an Ergo, a slightly too-big thick down parka to zip up over the Ergo, and a baby wool balaclava, and committed to getting us out every day. Some days I was drained and irritable and I felt better literally at the end of the driveway, and I'm sure the kid did too. Good winter wear (and an Ergo) will be useful next winter, too!
posted by kmennie at 8:28 PM on February 3, 2011

Your other recent questions show a lot of anxiety about parenting and about yourself -- are you in a place where you have a support network and friends? Do you know other moms? Can you meet some? Do you have people you can lean on a bit? I feel like maybe you need more people to help you/support you.

You did ask for books -- What to Expect the First Year/the Toddler Years can help you track milestones and gives you some suggestions for activities. You can get these used for $1 or 2 online. (Babycenter.com also typically has age-appropriate activity suggestions that I find helpful; they do a newsletter you can get weekly in your inbox which was just the right bite-sized info for me.)

Also, with the reading adult stuff, do you have a chair that backs up to a window? I'd sit on the couch with the baby on my shoulder so he could look out the window at the world going by and then I'd read, either out loud or to myself, and we'd be quite happy that way. I noticed one of your earlier questions was about reading poetry (something I do with mine) ... some nature poems while she stares out the window would be lovely.

(And yeah, we went out in all kinds of terrible weather with the baby; I'd go to my city zoo -- free when it's frigid out! -- just to get out of the house for a while, and we orienteered all winter with him. Layers, a good bunting suit, and blankets to add on top if necessary make a five-month-old pretty winter-portable. If you use the stroller, a thick blanket UNDERNEATH as well as on top helps with insulating. In a carrier they get your body heat too.)

also, a lot of the TV-impairs-language studies are done with kids who don't get a lot of parental interaction or "live" language otherwise, and there are significant socioeconomic factors that impact the outcomes for children exposed to TV; I'd personally cut down the TV, but don't worry that you've done any permanent damage as long as you're otherwise talking and interacting at a reasonable rate. The debate on TV for kids can get a little shrill and anxiety-making, I think. Once I got chastised by a stranger for letting my kid play with my phone in the DMV line! It has a SCREEN!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:04 PM on February 3, 2011

So many good suggestions! I would only add: 5 months is very, very young! It seems like she's been around forever, but she's still working on the First Basics. Moving, focussing her eyes, distinguishing sounds and faces, accidentally rolling over and wow! trying to do it again. Strengthening her neck muscles so she can hold her head up, and since she's growing at such a rate, constantly learning how to use longer arms, better thumb/finger gripping. She is one busy little chick, and if you're not careful you're going to distract her from her main business -- being a baby. As long as she's not isolated for long periods, you don't have to talk to her all the time, or sing, or anything else. Just enjoy her. Any baby that small is going to get lots of handling and interacting just in the course of feeding/cleaning/dressing/cleaning/time to feed again.....
posted by kestralwing at 11:07 PM on February 3, 2011

I thought I didn't have to worry about tv until she grew to be old enough to nearly 'get it'

At this age, the idea is more that the flashing images are bad for brain development. Watching an hour of TV from her swing, twice a day, is way too much, IMO. Much better to get her out and about. Join a mothers' group!
posted by palliser at 11:25 PM on February 3, 2011

I also have a 5-month-old. Now, I notice that your activities include a lot of sitting-up or propping-up type stuff - exersaucer, jumperoo, swing. And your baby hates tummy time, and you don't mention wearing her. There's nothing wrong with any of that, but the combination of factors make me wonder if she has reflux? Because that is all very characteristic of my daughter a couple of months ago before we got on some medication for silent reflux. Is her back often arched? That would be a dead giveaway. These days my baby is very very happy on her tummy playing with toys for a good 15 minutes or more, but it wasn't so long ago that she would rock like a little banana and cry, and it really sucked.

I wouldn't sweat it too much about the TV; I suspect it's one of those rules that people don't really follow and as Eyebrows McGee mentioned, those studies tend to reflect other kinds of issues than just early introduction of TV.

Oh and wearing the baby, keeping the baby near you all the time - *shrug*, whatever. I don't buy that argument that we leave babies on their own too much now. They need space to contemplate things quietly; being constantly stimulated is tiring. I've seen how babies are treated in a remote African village and trust me, those women work way too hard to be constantly interacting with their babies. And they're just as likely to let them play on the ground for a while as wear them, unless they're walking somewhere.

But I digress..

Books - get a few of those cloth Lamaze books, the 0 - 9 month ones with little animals of different textures, hanging from strings and velcro, etc. My girl cannot get enough of 'Monkey See Monkey Zoo'. Now she's starting to enjoy board books too. Make one board book her bed-time book and read it to her every night (we use Goodnight Moon).

And yeah, getting outside if possible, library rhyme time, listening to music, singing, dancing, chatting are all great, especially if your baby grooves on it. Pop her in a Bumbo if you can afford another piece of baby crap that will only be useful for a couple of months.

BUT - they are all *so* different, even by this age. If you've been trapped at home a lot you might lose perspective on that fact, but take into account that some stuff suggested here (including by me) might just not suit your baby's temperament.
posted by 8k at 4:27 AM on February 4, 2011

One thing I discovered about myself when I became a mom is that I'd spent so much time yearning to parent that, when the kid arrived, I was flummoxed that there's not much to do with a baby. I suspect that's what often led me to making my own food and researching the 'best' toys and removing all plastics from the house, etc, etc, etc -- I wanted to actively mother, to impart perfect nurturing, today! I remember putting play-dough in front of my 8-mo-old and feeling sad that he wasn't very interested -- it was years later that I realized 8 mos was young for him to get onto play-dough.

Sitting up and watching you, watching the dog, watching the mailperson, watching someone vacuum -- all of that is plenty interesting to a 5 mo old. I seem to recall this is when they begin to be able to grab and pick things up -- if you want to sit her in the high chair with some broken cheerios, that may fascinate her for a bit. And going out doesn't have to involve a destination -- just wandering the backyard or around the block is big-doings to a little person.

Sit her in a clothes basket. Weight the other side down with toys.

Prop her in front of a large mirror -- I loved to have a large mirror on the floor for my kids at this age. She can watch herself.

Another thing is music -- if you're knitting and it doesn't feel like you're parenting enough, put on some music and hang her a 3 inch piece of yarn. Sit close enough that she can watch the needles magically produce fabric. Give her one of the 17g wooden needles and let her gnaw on it.

Babies are kind-of boring. And 80% of the time that they are 'exciting', it's because they're upset. Talking to them lots is good, but all they really need right now is love and something to stare at.
posted by MeiraV at 6:37 AM on February 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm inspired by you folks who take baby out for walks and on the bus in the cold. I thought that would be selfish of me - what silliness. Hello world, here I come :)
posted by kitcat at 6:43 AM on February 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

You know those old school placards that say "if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!"?

Cheesy, but for infants and toddlers, so true. Getting out and about isn't selfish. Knitting or reading the internet isn't selfish. Making grownup friends isn't selfish. It keeps you happy and sane and that's very important to your baby's happiness, moreso than any one activity.

In terms of TV, I don't recommend it for your sanity more than anything else--I think it's easy to get into a vicious cycle where their attention span is short and TV is the only thing that entertains them. That makes it tough to go out, wait in lines, run errands, eat meals...

But again, if it keeps you sane, do it! I can't emphasize that enough. Your happiness IS important.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:45 AM on February 4, 2011

I've favourited a few things, but I wanted to add that the reading, talking, singing out loud part is more important than parents know, even though it doesn't show up at this point. It's like a muscle that you have to exercise, for yourself - and part of socializing for her. You're investing in the future with it now.

I'm a quiet person too, on my own time and know as in introvert that it takes a lot of energy to interact with people, and even a five month old counts in that. But it's important for her development to see your face, your expressions, and to watch your lips when you speak - so the more narration, the better. Chat about meals, or as your cleaning, put her next to you talk about it. I do work as a technical reviewer for parenting books, and can assure you that the rule is that if everyone's happy and healthy not to fix what's not broken - but if you want to improve, which this question indicates, being more verbal/conversant with her now would be what I'd suggest. The problem with the TV is that it's not interactive, so she gets no social cues from it. So less is better. Even just sitting her at the table with you while you have your meals is a good thing to do, because babies get ready to eat themselves by watching their adults eating.

Patented mommy horror story, that actually happened to a friend of mine: she rarely spoke with her son, being a naturally very quiet person. She didn't socialize much, because she's exceptionally introverted. She lives across town and I rarely get to see her with our different schedules. His speech by age two and a half was only a verbal fricative. When the doctor asked her about her interaction with him after ruling out a bunch of other possible issues, like did she say stuff like "Up!" when going up the stairs with him or say things like "mmm...peas!" when feeding him, she couldn't believe that people did these things! She said she'd feel like an idiot, babbling all day. It turns out that it was really, truly, the non-communication that had stunted his development. And with language, comes many other things, as was proven with feral children. So, believe me - reading anything out loud, even recipes, will pay off in the future.
posted by peagood at 8:03 AM on February 4, 2011

"he rarely spoke with her son, being a naturally very quiet person. She didn't socialize much, because she's exceptionally introverted. ... It turns out that it was really, truly, the non-communication that had stunted his development."

peagood, almost exactly the same thing happened with a neighbor of mine. There were a few other issues at play -- she's the most socially anxious person I ever met and so never, ever left the house and came up with excuses to prevent her child from socializing ("he'll get sick from the other kids" "those parents feed their kids hotdogs!" (really!) etc.), and she was exhausted and overwhelmed with at-home parenting totally on her own (no family or friends nearby), and they were older first-time parents who were unprepared for the upheaval of a child and constantly resented his childish needs intruding on their adult life ... anyway, she got in the habit of using the TV to entertain him because she felt too overwhelmed trying to do it and couldn't seek help with it because of her anxiety, and she was impatient with his childish attempts to communicate and so ALWAYS gave him what he pointed at, or finished words or sentences for him, or whatever. Because she was so socially anxious they never interacted with other parents, neither of them had any experience with children -- they had NO IDEA his development was abnormal. (I tried several times to ask in a very roundabout way if they'd talked to his pediatrician, since it's hard to say to someone you only know casually, "Dude, your kid is not normal." But she always said, "Oh, yes, his pediatrician thinks he's great!")

At the age of five he was speaking like a 24-month old, at best. And he was constantly frustrated to tears because he couldn't communicate. They finally took him to a behavioral specialist for his "horrible tantrums" (crying when he couldn't communicate ... it wasn't a tantrum by any measure, trust me) and the specialist kinda flipped out. Anyway, things are coming along, but that's a LOT of language development time to lose (as well as social development). So it's hard. I think I'm abnormally vigilant about language and social development because of my front-row seat to this child's problem. I'm always questioning the pediatrician closely to ensure everything's EXACTLY ON TRACK because I'm a bit paranoid, even though I know intellectually that this child's situation was really extreme.

I felt dumb narrating myself at first but now I'm so used to doing it that I have to STOP myself from doing it out loud when I'm at the supermarket by myself. :)

And we totally found out who their pediatrician was so we could make sure NOT TO GO TO THAT ONE, because there is absolutely no way a competent pediatrician could look at this child year after year and not say to the parents, "This is NOT NORMAL and we need to intervene sooner rather than later."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:24 AM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're looking for specific activities do do with her, there's a great book (IMO) with activities specifically for babies from birth to age 1. Gymboree's Baby Play by Wendy Masi Ph.D, Roni Cohen Leiderman, Dr. Wendy S. Masi, and Dr. Roni Cohen Leiderman.
posted by INTPLibrarian at 8:26 AM on February 4, 2011

I think there is a lot of good advice in this thread, and I didn't want to derail. But for the most part it's really, really hard to impair a child's language on purpose. There are a lot of different cultures out there and not all of them approach infant development like middle class America. Some never speak to their children directly at all; some actively encourage children not to interact verbally. Yet all humans learn to speak right around the same time.

While a language rich environment can encourage language development, you can't fundamentally break a child's language system by not talking to them, provided they get language exposure through other avenues - parents talking to one another, exposure to people in the community, and even television/radio (even though it's not very efficient).

Yes language delays and disorders exist, and sure good environments can help to encourage slower development, but don't live in fear of messing up your kids. They are really pretty hard to mess up.

(example cases of feral children are so exceptional that they aren't really practically applicable. you would have to try really hard to make a genie and even then one has to consider what impact her mental retardation had on her language development).
posted by lilnublet at 9:40 AM on February 4, 2011

Talk to her. She can sit in her seat in the kitchen while you cook, or in the laundry room, etc. Tell her about colors and foods and the weather and the Super Bowl and anything else. Use lots of words; they help her brain develop well. Play music that you love. All music is good for babies' brain development; it doesn't have to be Mozart. Show her the outdoors, the night sky, paintings, horses, cats, the neighbor outside with an umbrella. These things develop her brain, and by engaging with her, you help her learn and grow, and show her that you're there with her for this exciting Life she has begun. Humans are adapted to human life; they don't need a different environment; they need to be an integral part of the family. Early on, I got the advice about taking the baby outdoors; he loved it, and still loves the outdoors at 23.
posted by theora55 at 11:58 AM on February 4, 2011

Selfish? Gosh, I hope not because we have a rule that we go outside every day unless we're ill or it's below 0F outside. I like our Ergo because it means we're sharing body heat and I can lean down quite easily to feel his cheeks or hands and get inside if need be. Fresh air, new stuff to look at, smell, and hear--seems good developmentally and for us, too. Even the baby gets bored and stircrazy when we've been inside for a while.

Seeing how my 3-month old watches the bigger kids at daycare, I'd recommend finding someplace local where kids congregate and just hanging out to let your daughter watch. Schoolyard, burger joint, whatever. Mine is *fascinated* by kids and babies. Wears himself out with all the looking, truly.

My husband wasn't feeling very confident about what to do with a very small baby and bought this book. There's not much that's exceptionally novel in the under-6-month age range, but there's some stuff that might make you feel more like you're doing real stuff. Looking in mirrors, singing songs, moving their arms and legs.

We play a lot of music and set the baby up so he can see us as we do more or less whatever we'd normally be doing. Lots of action narration as described upthread or singing with the music, lots of having him "help" by holding a stack of underpants (aka having them lay across his lap) or giving him a green bean or spoon to wave around while we cook. Really not playing with him so much as looking over once in a while to check on him, but he seems pretty happy just to look at us do things. I certainly feel less on-the-spot while folding laundry than I do trying to play properly, and I think I end up interacting with him more productively as a result.

We do read him kids' books so long as he's interested in the pictures, but stop whenever he looks away or fusses since we want to get in the habit of that being a fun thing and not torture. He makes it through short books maybe 70% of the time.

Tummy time seems to go better when he lays on our chests and we lean back on the couch (better with husband than with me, because he often decides to be hungry when he's that close to my chest.) Our pediatrician said that even being upright in our arms is useful enough for head and neck control that we shouldn't be too concerned about the fact that he doesn't lay flat on the floor for more than a minute or two before screaming.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:08 PM on February 4, 2011

tchemgrrl: Unfortunately here in Edmonton it is under 0F (-18C) for quite a lot of the winter. :(

We do use our ergo carrier quite a lot but when it's below -10C, or when it's really icy and I'm worried about falling with the carrier, I prefer to bundle my son up in his super-warm snowsuit (rated to -30C) and put him in a covered stroller.
posted by sanitycheck at 9:27 PM on February 4, 2011

When you use a carrier in the winter -- just zip your own coat up over it! No warmer way in the world to carry a baby.

(I fell no less than three times while carrying my baby -- thanks sleep deprivation -- and all three times I magically took all of the fall myself and the kid did not even wake up. I suspect taking falls just so is built in)

And I forgot to mention that buses are great for most babies and toddlers. Like, so great that one wants to ride a bus just for the sake of riding a bus, it's that exciting an activity.
posted by kmennie at 6:41 AM on February 5, 2011

kmennie - What do you do about baby's face when you do the coat/carrier combo? My main concern is the skin on his face freezing when exposed to the cold cold air, and I'm nervous about his breathing if his face is completely covered. With the stroller (we have this one) I am more comfortable because the wind is blocked but his face isn't directly covered.
posted by sanitycheck at 6:00 PM on February 5, 2011

If we're going out with the ergo and it's -15 Celsius or colder (here in Montreal) I try to keep the baby's head covered with a lacy wool scarf-but health canada recommends never zipping your jacket completely over their head to prevent suffocation. My local public health nurse also suggests applying a thin layer of lansinoh or Vaseline on exposed baby skin to protect from the wind chill if it's colder than about -15c.
posted by MissSquare at 8:35 PM on February 8, 2011

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