The Link Between Baby Playtime and Naptime

The Link Between Baby Playtime and Naptime

Parents know that newborns spend a LOT of time eating and sleeping. In the early days, parents dutifully record baby’s pees and poops, spend weeks getting the hang of breastfeeding or bottle feeding, and try to squeeze in as much sleep as possible. But when the haze of the newborn phase starts to lift, many parents wonder: what else?! Beyond the blur of long newborn feedings and near-constant dozing, how and when does baby playtime and naptime come into the mix?

The answer is that no one routine works for every family. However, young babies thrive on a basic rhythm of eat, play, sleep for the first several months of life – even from the very early days! While ‘play’ might first be simply gazing up at you in a brief period of quiet alertness, it soon will morph into tummy time, reaching for objects, and before you know it – rolling and crawling all over the place. Read on to learn how to play with your newborn and tips for a successful playtime/naptime transition.

Why Babies Need Playtime

Play is an essential component of infant and child development. Just like good sleep and nutrition, time to play freely is a basic necessity for babies and children. Playing with a caregiver promotes bonding and well-being for both parties, and advances a baby’s physical and cognitive development as well. 

A baby learns about the world through play, trying out different ways of engaging with his surroundings and family. All children are born with an innate drive to play, starting with simple curiosity and manipulation of objects in early infancy through the development of imaginative play in toddlerhood. Play boosts both gross and fine motor skills and is key to brain development. Also, playtime is when babies learn that life is fun and interesting!

How to Play With Your Newborn

Newborns need 14-17 hours of total sleep per 24 hours, and spend a lot of time eating on top of that. They have brief periods of alertness in between, when they are rested and bellies are full. When you notice your newborn has a relaxed body and open eyes calmly taking in their environment, they’re in a quiet alert phase. Take advantage of this brief special moment to bond and play with your little one. 

In the early weeks, playing with your newborn might simply look like gazing into each other’s eyes and speaking softly or singing to your baby. You might enjoy walking slowly around your home or yard, telling your little one about their home and the people and pets in their family. 

As your newborn grows and becomes more alert and physically stronger, play can evolve into a more active exchange. Here are some ideas for ways to play with your newborn:

  • Tummy time: Lay next to your baby during tummy time and encourage him with your voice as he builds neck and core muscles. Incorporate tummy time every day!
  • Make faces: Newborns LOVE to watch people’s faces! Make silly faces, place peek-a-boo, or stick out your tongue and see if your baby tries to mimic you. 
  • Tactile: Give your baby different objects to feel, like different materials of fabric or soft baby books. 
  • Visual: Offer your baby different interesting objects to look at, especially high contrasting patterns and shapes.
  • Read: It’s never too early to read to your baby. Remember that your newborn sees best less than 12 inches away, so hold the book close for them. 

Most importantly, don’t overthink it! Be spontaneous and authentic with your little one. Blow raspberries, count toes, make up silly rhymes… just be yourself with your baby and notice what makes them light up. Play is supposed to be fun, after all! 

The Link Between Baby Playtime and Naptime 

Parents know that babies need to eat well to sleep well. But good play is essential for good sleep, too! Play engages your baby physically and mentally, offering an enjoyable way to challenge their bodies and brains so that they can then build muscles and neurons during sleep. Getting into a rhythm of eat, play, sleep helps your little one in several ways. Eating after sleep helps them avoid the temptation of feeding to sleep and building that tough-to-break association. And baby playtime before nap time wears your baby out in the best of ways, getting them used to the joy of a good rest after physically and mentally exertion.

Transition Smoothly From Playtime to Naptime

The key to a healthy balance of playing and napping is knowing when your baby is ready to sleep. Look out for subtle sleep cues during playtime, like getting distracted or not wanting to make eye contact. Fussing and crying are signs your baby is overtired. Put your baby down for a nap drowsy but awake to build healthy sleep habits. An overtired baby can be quite difficult to settle for sleep, as stress hormones like cortisol are released when babies are overtired, making getting to sleep more difficult. A good play session after a full feeding is the perfect recipe for a nice solid nap. Subsequently, a well-rested baby will be eager to eat and play well afterward! Follow the rhythm of eat, play, sleep; trust your instincts and enjoy the natural progression of baby playtime as your little one grows and changes.