What can you show a newborn baby?
August 16, 2011 6:26 AM   Subscribe

So how do you encourage cognitive development in newborn babies when all they do is eat and sleep?

I have two 12-day-old babies and I'm wondering if there's any way I can stimulate them when all they really do is eat and sleep. I talk to them a lot when I'm feeding and changing them, I try to touch them a lot and massage them when they're awake and walk them around the apartment a little and I've been showing them some black and white stuffed animals, but is there anything else I can do? Or if I'm getting way ahead of myself here, then what is the appropriate age to start stimulating them?
posted by creasy boy to Education (45 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Answerers will come in with links and all, but - you're doing the right thing. The main thing is to interact. Babies are little learning machines and they're wired to learn from the kinds of things you are doing. Touch, talk, sing, walk around, feel different textures. Meet their needs. Please, please, don't start getting anxious already about having Baby Einstein. You love your babies, you're paying attention to them, you're interacting with them, making eye contact and talking and touching, YOU ARE DOING EVERYTHING RIGHT.
posted by Miko at 6:28 AM on August 16, 2011 [10 favorites]

They're 12 days old, you're getting way ahead of yourself here. They're stimulated just by being alive, all you have to do is look after them.
posted by joannemullen at 6:30 AM on August 16, 2011 [23 favorites]

I agree, you really only want to comfort them and love them at this early stage. The contact and warmth is all the stimuli they can use right now.
posted by Dragonness at 6:33 AM on August 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

They have literally never seen anything before, ever. Walking them into the other room is probably a mind blowing experience for them. As is discovering their own snot, blinking, seeing their own toes, etc..
posted by empath at 6:33 AM on August 16, 2011 [11 favorites]

Hard as it would be for even a minimally adequate parent to fuck this up, as joannemullen points out, because babies are learning machines, as Miko points out, for a person who could even ask this question it would be impossible. There is NO WAY you are not doing enough to stimulate your babies' little minds. So relax. :)

Congratulations, by the way!
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 6:36 AM on August 16, 2011

I think that you're over thinking this. Do what Miko says but mostly just let them be babies, that's what they're good at.
posted by octothorpe at 6:36 AM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sleep is one of the things they really, really need for their brains to develop. Plus, everything said above.
posted by gaspode at 6:36 AM on August 16, 2011 [6 favorites]

Your own face is a great way to stimulate them - put it close, because their range is only going to be about 12 inches.

But really - feeding them, holding them, talking to them - that's all you can do, and it's what you should be doing. Don't overthink it!
posted by sutel at 6:36 AM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sing, hold and read to them as much as possible, but it's more for your benefit than theirs.
posted by michaelh at 6:37 AM on August 16, 2011

Best answer: You're fine; chill.

But, in a bit, look at magazines with photographs of people's faces and watch their eyes pop, and try carting them around in a sling/carrier so they get to see and smell and hear much of what you do. Slicing an orange or an onion is a thrill for a newborn. Bring them into your world.

But right now just focus on serving as their mattress...
posted by kmennie at 6:40 AM on August 16, 2011

Keep in mind the first three months post-partum are really kind of a fourth trimester. They aren't really fully cooked yet in a gestational sense, but they have to come out at 40 weeks or their heads wouldn't fit through the birth canal. Sleeping and eating are the order of the day, and talking and singing and massage for the brief periods of wakefulness are exactly right. Don't worry- it takes months before they become more interactive.
posted by ambrosia at 6:40 AM on August 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Dear God, let them eat and sleep!!! Before long, your kid will be talking your ear off (and mostly asking the same annoying questions over and over preceded by the word "Mom" or "hey!"), they'll be getting into EVERYTHING and trying to poison or choke or electrocute themselves. You won't be able to feed them anything that starts with the letter "P" on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (that might just be my kids) and by GOD THEY WILL NOT NAP WHEN YOU WANT THEM TO! They will only nap through the drive to the airport, the gates at security, and the line to get on the plane, but when you get on the plane they will wake up, and they will not be happy.

And you CAN overstimulate a baby. They get really cranky. And then the bitch of it all is that by the time they're 5 they want stimulation 24-7 (my daughter needs roller coasters, fireworks, and sky diving to think that anything is even remotely amusing).

Take your time. Smell their little heads while they sleep in your lap. Take a nap yourself. I'll bet you a million dollars you need it. Make yourself a sandwich. Pretty soon you'll be eating left over PB&J because that's all you have time for.
posted by madred at 6:44 AM on August 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

At 12 days old, their worlds are rocked by the color beige and the idea that there's such thing as a ceiling.

I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:44 AM on August 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

Congratulations. And just do what Miko suggests - i.e. keep doing what you're doing now.
posted by Verdant at 6:46 AM on August 16, 2011

you're doing great! just keep talking to them - about anything - talk about the npr story you just heard or the bachelor finale you just watched. use real words and don't baby talk. sutel is right - get up close and personal because their eyes can't focus on stuff more than a foot away.

avoid all that baby Einstein stuff. it's an intoxicating idea, but one that's been found to be bunk.
posted by nadawi at 6:46 AM on August 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Remember that their emotional development into secure, attached, happy babies is important, too, so basic things like responding to their cries and holding them are helping them develop into awesome super babies!

I might need pictures for a complete analysis, though!
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:47 AM on August 16, 2011 [7 favorites]

Even later on, they're going to get all the stimulation they need just by being around you, being talked to, getting read to, etc. Kids are hard, but that part isn't hard. All kids really need is plain old time spent interacting with their parents and other caretakers and the freedom to explore the world. That's almost all of what separates the ones who statistically turn out well from those that statistically don't. Plus, reading.
posted by pjaust at 6:54 AM on August 16, 2011

Agree with everyone else.

Here's my additional advice: At 12 days old, the most important reason for all this stimulation is to get you used to interacting with them. When i was on maternity leave, sometimes noon would roll around and I would realize I hadn't spoken a word to the baby because she didn't speak back. It took a lot of practice to remember for a while.

But yeah, hugs and cuddles and coos and talking and your face are good enough :) Congrats.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:03 AM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

If I have this right, during the first 3 months, they are still basically in a fetal stage, they're just on the outside now! But yeah, walking, talking, singing, swaddling when sleepy -- all good!

You made me laugh! I asked a near identical question a few months back when my son was 7 weeks old. So I know how you are feeling.

Just love on them! The rest falls into place by the end of the 3rd month or so. You're doing great. Follow their cues as you go.

My husband started laying our son down on one of these things almost from the beginning, and sorta playing with him and just letting him look about at the hanging toys and stuff. I had decent luck stimulating my son a bit with a nice mobile...

But everyone is right. The most stimulating thing for your babies right now is you. Just being around 24/7 to care for them is HUGE.

Also. We took our son out for LOTS of walks, to restaurants, short errands we could walk to. No touching, but my infant interacted with A LOT of people. The best was when we socialized with him in the baby Bjorn or next time him in the stroller. At 4 months old he's pretty "on to it" and I think that's because he's seen us interact with a wide variety of folks while making sure he wasn't getting over-stimulated and getting enough attention just on his own.

You're doing great! Congratulations!!!!
posted by jbenben at 7:06 AM on August 16, 2011

Nthing that you are already doing it right. Also wanted to sugggest an outwards facing sling/baby bjorn (for later, once their vision has improved), so that they can see the world instead of your chest as you carry them around.
posted by monkeys with typewriters at 7:06 AM on August 16, 2011

don't sweat the baby talk, it's natural, and may help infants learn faster.
posted by titanium_geek at 7:08 AM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a 17 day old. On the rare occasions when is awake and alert but not crying, hungry, needing to be changed, or needing a cuddle, we give him a couple of minutes of tummy time. His own little body is all the stimulation he needs right now, I think.
posted by that's how you get ants at 7:09 AM on August 16, 2011

Eye contact. Classical music.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:09 AM on August 16, 2011

This why we instinctually talk, coo, sing, hold, hug, tickle, make faces, make funny noises, tickle, play peek-a-boo, etc. with babies. People have been doing it for as long as there have been people. Relax and have fun.
posted by The Deej at 7:12 AM on August 16, 2011

A lot of babies at 12 days old still can't see across a room.

You will know when they can start to see across the room because their faces will have a, "WHOA, DUDE! CHECK THAT OUT!" as though they're seriously tripping look to them.

Around 12 weeks there'll be a lot more stuff they're interested in doing that you can encourage. But until about then, let 'em do what they do best --- eat, sleep, pee, and poop.
posted by zizzle at 7:22 AM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sorry for typos - damn auto-correct!

Wanted to add that we took our newborn son into nature a lot (short hikes, lunch by a lake, etc.) I figured the noises of birds, wind, leaves, the smell of trees or the ocean - theses were probably more stimulating on an instinctual level than any toy we could buy. Some people keep their infants inside for months, and while I'm sure that is a valid choice, I thought changing up his environment by going outside (in protective clothing with appropriate gear for his comfort, of course!) was probably more stimulating for him than the fours walls of any room in our home. Even and especially if he was sleeping through the "adventure."

Also. And this is weird... I don't know if newborns have a sense of time, but I remember time seeming sooooo much longer to me as a child, 5 minutes felt like forever! I tried to keep that in mind when engaging in any activity with my son. If he only seems to be enjoying something for a minute or two and then he starts fussing or whatever - great! Those were likely a fun two minutes for him that seemed like two hours from his perspective!

OK. That's all I wanted to add.
posted by jbenben at 7:28 AM on August 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

The best thing you can do is start figuring out how to look after yourself now that you have them.
posted by srboisvert at 7:31 AM on August 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Eating and sleeping IS cognitive development.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:56 AM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Two greet books about development are Nurtureshock and What's going on in there?
posted by bq at 8:01 AM on August 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Father to ~4 month old twins here. I would nth all the advice above re: you're doing okay and everything is fine. I would add that our little ones from circa a couple of weeks to about 2 months loved looking at black and white. High contrast anything.

We got them these books (which went down a treat), but they were just as happy staring at a black and white patterned cushion on the sofa.

More on visual development here.
posted by bright cold day at 8:02 AM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I bought a book called Baby Play that I found at barnes and nobles a few years ago. It had lots of games to play with newborns up to 1yr. A lot of the newborn games were super fun for the parents.

An example was getting a rolling toy that you could lay then tummy down on and roll them back and forth. Another was to put them in a towel or large blanket and both parents swing them gently side to side. They had many more, but that's all I can rememeber. Sadly I gave my book to a friend and it's not circulated it's self around. Everyone seems to really enjoy it.

Good luck!
posted by Sweetmag at 8:27 AM on August 16, 2011

It's circulated* excuse the not in there!
posted by Sweetmag at 8:28 AM on August 16, 2011

Best answer: Everybody's got the right idea. One more thing I would add-- skin-to-skin contact is great for development as well. Massage is good, as well as just letting them hang out in your lap or on your chest (or your partner's chest/lap).

Enjoy :-)
posted by tuesdayschild at 9:04 AM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

If it wasn't for the fact that we humans walk upright and thus have annoyingly narrow birth canals, those babies would still be chilling out inside you. You're getting WAY ahead of yourself here!

Also, I'm not sure why you think that 'stimulating' them is something you have to remember to do. They absorb information just fine by themselves, that's basically all they do.

Actually (and I know you are pretty goddamn busy at the moment, but) if you are interested, I'd highly recommend reading this book, which compares parenting techniques across many cultures. It may help you stop thinking that every little thing you do is going to make or break your kids' entire future. I know it made me a LOT more relaxed and confident around my various infant relatives.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:10 AM on August 16, 2011

Kudos to you, because at twelve days after labor (!!!) I was still all crazy-eyes and fog-brain from a Csection and associated annoyances and wasn't anywhere near contemplating this sort of thing.

Everyone has said this, but to add some encouragement - Seriously, at this age everything is stimulating. Sometimes when they're teeny and you talk to them really close or put your face right up near theirs they'll actually turn their faces away to kind of "escape" the overstimulation. Just enjoy them and love on them and they'll pick up all the skills they need at this very early stage just from feeling the comfort of your skin and hearing your tone of voice as they look around at the big world around them. Congrats! :)
posted by takoukla at 9:55 AM on August 16, 2011

Best answer: Playing music, dancing with the babies, brief periods of tummy time to stimulate development of their neck muscles, reading to them (even when they're asleep), long walks in a sling, hold their noses close to different flowers and herbs, roll them around in a blanket, baths (pouring the water on different parts of their bodies), bouncing with them in your arms while sitting on a yoga ball, singing, tickling them with feathers and different fabrics, but most importantly talking talking talking. Commentate everything you do. In the next few weeks get a black and white mobile for the crib and start showing them pictures of faces.
posted by goo at 9:57 AM on August 16, 2011

Best answer: Play with their "mirror neurons." At this age, babies are somewhat compelled to mimic your facial expressions. For example, stick your tongue out and watch them do the same. Fun!

Source for mirror neuron discussion: "What's Going on in There?", a very readable book by a neuroscientist.
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:11 AM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's not much to be done with them beyond what you're doing now for the first few months. However, we enjoyed The Baby Owner's Game Book when we felt particularly starved for ideas.
posted by tchemgrrl at 11:24 AM on August 16, 2011

Best answer: Get a chart that tells you how good your baby's eyesight is currently. At 12 days I'm pretty sure the baby is able to distinguish faces at close-up distance only and can see black white and red.

Get the baby some zebra with chicken pox type toys.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:43 AM on August 16, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you everyone. I should have said that obviously I'm letting them sleep as much as they can -- there's two of them and I have shit to do. Anyway, some really helpful ideas in this thread.
posted by creasy boy at 12:11 PM on August 16, 2011

Check your memail!
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 1:46 PM on August 16, 2011

What is tummy time? They're on their tummy?
posted by kirkaracha at 3:05 PM on August 16, 2011

Tummy time is a modern pediatric recommendation in the US -- it's due to the relatively-new recommendation that babies be placed to sleep on their backs to prevent SIDS. Being placed on their fronts, as babies often used to be placed, naturally led to the baby's discovery that hey, I can prop myself up on my arms here, and that led naturally to crawling. Now they spend a lot of time on their backs, so the recommendation is that supervised, awake "tummy time" is good for cognitive and physical development.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:08 PM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I should mention that doesn't apply to really wee infants. They're just busy flipping out about *having* arms and legs, never mind using them.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:12 PM on August 16, 2011

When my son was in those months, I used to read out loud to him to keep him happy and keep me from getting bored...

His first book was Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" (as a chef, I'm so proud of that!) His second book was David Sedaris' "Me Talk Pretty One Day."

He loved it. I liked re-visiting old favorites that were easy to stop and start again. He liked hearing my voice, even when I stopped having mundane things to narrate verbally. That's where the books came in. So there's that.
posted by jbenben at 12:52 AM on August 17, 2011

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