Easy steps: How to play with newborn (bonus for photographers)

Newborn girl in purple swaddle setup

Play for newborns is essential in many different ways, but not always easy to carry out. Here are some ideas for science approved, safe and mutually fun games you can play with newborn baby and tricks how to take it on the next level – if you sail into an adventure called newborn photography.


About benefits of playing with newborns

They are fascinating and rewarding, adorable and mysterious, but what newborns actually do? Eat, sleep, cry and stare in the blank space even though you are doing your best to entertain them.

All jokes aside, delights of being around newborn baby can be overwhelming, right? You feel all the thrill of those piercing blue eyes, pink soft skin and amazement because well, they are so small and fragile, but you also want to pick them up, entice their cute giggle and play.

Infant-development experts agree that not only you can play with a newborn baby, but you actually should. Playing is all-important because we are all born to play. Yes, it is very significant instinct in human beings, but also crucial in newborn development. That’s how babies learn to move their body, understand their environment, be confident and communicate. Play is beginning of socialization, root of knowing oneself and foundation for finding a place in the world. In one sentence, playing has physical, cognitive, social, and emotional impact.

Of course, you must know some basics: what newborns like, which games are age-appropriate and how to play with newborn baby in terms of safety. These fun and science-backed games apply in healthy newborns and work just as well if you are parent, sibling or photographer.

Brothers holding a baby on blue blanket

What you should know beforehand

Gaining newborn’s attention can be tricky

Even though they seem interested in world around them (and they certainly are), sometimes they are not interested in you. Make sure you realize eye contact before you try any of suggested play scenarios and remember, whenever a newborn stares at you, he or she is making a memory.

Never give up!

Playing with newborn baby can be tricky, even hard. You should try and see what works (you will know by baby’s reaction) and, for any of the game to have effect, you must repeat, repeat, repeat. Just how you can learn how to baby bath a newborn, you can learn to play with one.

Recognize the clues

If baby is already interested in something else, like watching closely picture on a wall, do not disturb. Babies learn from the first day and they are curious about the surroundings, but experts in pediatrics agree that you should not interrupt the process of learning through watching, which newborn initiated all alone.

Additional tip for photographers

Attention span of newborns is extremely short – they are exhausted from eating, crying, listening and watching everything around them, so count on hard work before you start if you want playful photos. Always keep in mind that focus of a newborn depends on various factors, such as baby’s temper and mood, so it is not all up to you.

Newborn with white headband in studio photoshoot

Playing with newborn’s visual aspect

Can you see me?

Newborns’ sight is not very well, so make sure you stimulate their vision. In the first days newborns see black and white contrast and bright colors (such as red) best, so make sure you either wear such clothes or have some props accordingly.

Problem solved!

Newborns develop problem solving skills from day one. Actually, from day two, because that’s the age babies learn first such skill: imitating basic facial movements. There is nothing wrong in being silly once in a while, so making goofy faces and sticking your tongue out is not just fun, but also very useful.

Who is that?

Mirror games are extremely advisable. Of course, newborns cannot recognize themselves in mirror like toddlers, but looking at their own face will help their instinct of facial recognition. First reaction to mirror can be curiosity or astonishment, but also fear, so make sure that newborn can see reflection of familiar face at the same time as he can see his.

OMG, where is it?

Newborns love difference games, so even babies several days old will react. Find two similar pictures with one obvious difference and hold them about 10 inches away from face of a newborn. Watch the little one looking left and right trying to figure out dissimilarity. This practice helps with later writing and reading skills.

Blue eye baby girl posing

Little help for photographers

You cannot know how the newborn will react, so make sure you have props that are adequate for newborns, such as colorful toys and fabrics that newborn can see and focus on, but will not obstruct the photo session.


How to thrive in playing with newborn: warm up your vocal cords

Babies are born with aspiration for sounds. Some studies show that even at birth, newborn recognizes mother’s voice, so there is no surprise that newborn baby reacts very well to all kinds of sounds. Don’t forget that you shouldn’t be too loud or you will scare them. Also, begin with simple and one syllable words.

They don’t talk, but you should!

Hearing talking voices, newborn learns how to communicate, understanding not just the words and language, but also emotions and also absorbing them. You will surely get no reaction whatsoever, but it is important to keep talking and mimicking conversation: pause after a question like you expect an answer, so that baby starts to learn how actual dialog should sound.

Humming and singing all night long.

Singing has the power to soothe the baby and convey emotions and can also be a great way to keep newborn’s attention. They react so much better and so much more on vocal then visual incentive. It is highly recommended to make up your own songs and rhymes.

Release your inner soprano.

Newborns really like high-pitched sounds. So when you use your baby language, they understand it like a form of a game and you’ll get their attention immediately. Particularly in this kind of game you should limit choice of “words” to a syllable or two.

Swaddled newborn on white background

Let the music play!

Whatever you do around newborn, music can help. With the right choice, you can just watch his reaction to rhythm and already have a feeling you are master at playing with newborn. Follow the reaction and change the music whenever baby doesn’t seem interested. Remember that tracing the rhythm helps newborns with learning math, studies show.

Make a sound.

Well, you are obviously making sounds when talking and singing, but instead of music, try to make funny noises like you’re beatboxing, imitating the music softly and newborn will love it. Mix in some high pitched parts and you will get priceless enthusiasm.

Photographer’s tip

Before any of these, check with parents what their baby likes to hear – specific kind of music, traditional lullaby, favorite words and songs and how baby reacts to sound of non-parents.


Newborn’s playground: touch it, move it, laugh it off (works great in photo session)

Every newborn is different. Some don’t mind rough and silly games, some enjoy only calm and quiet times, but they all equally cherish the play. You should start gently and try what works best. Every newborn photographer should know what keeps newborn’s attention and make him alert and inquisitive.

When you’re not making photos of a sleeping newborn, you will want to keep him or her playful and allow the real character to come through. You can’t be too prepared, because there are good chances that you will have to change the game scenario every five minutes.

There are so many ways you can achieve successful scenario for newborn photo session, as you can see in these newborn photos.

The power of touch

Even if you are a little bit timid around few days old baby, you absolutely should use great effect of a touch. Did you know that around 80% of a baby’s communication is expressed through body movement? The importance of touch cannot be stressed enough. Experts agree that sense of touch is essential for physical and cognitive skills, as making the emotional connection and stability, because skin-to-skin contact assures newborns they are safe. Also, through experiencing different objects, newborns learn about their surroundings.

Mom holding her newborn during a photoshoot in studio

The world reveals to newborns through their senses, so it’s very important that they feel different textures, fabrics – silk, cotton and velvet can be interesting as toys. If they react well, tickling and gently tapping when you speak or sing to a newborn have great effects on connecting with him.

That’s why you need a lot of accessories when you’re doing newborn photography, not only cute newborn baby clothes, hats and blankets, but also toys that baby can feel and express that feeling for a photo. Attention hunters can be simple everyday objects such as books, napkins or anything with interesting texture for newborn to touch.

Smile first, then we’ll dance

Even at early age as couple of weeks, you should show a newborn what laughter is. Not just because you want to see a happy baby, but because by making him laugh, you encourage development of his sense of humor. Do something funny and touch newborn so that he can associate situation with result.

On laughter, and in general, newborns react with mimicking: smile, giggle and laugh around them if you want to capture their face movements and often repeat what made them interested once.

Similar effect like laughter can have dance: relaxing music with gentle sway with newborn in your arms have soothing effect and as the baby grows, you can add new dance moves. This also creates a sense of coordination later in life.

Photo of a newborn girl smiling

As a photographer, if you are not getting the expected reaction from a newborn, you don’t have to actually do the dance: as they love to feel, babies love to see movement, so dance in front of them in order to relax them. To reduce fuss to a minimum, you should prepare for every photo session by asking parents of a newborn about baby’s feeding and sleeping schedule.

If you are interested in newborn photography, there are more tips for successful newborn photography. Don’t forget that each play with newborn that requires physical contact should begin with soft touch and without loud noises, or baby can be scared.


Should it be this hard?

If playing with newborn sounds challenging, it’s because it is. And if playing can be difficult, imagine how tricky it is taking newborn baby pictures while trying to keep the baby playful. That’s why you as a parent or other family member can always have the professional newborn photographer to do a session.

For examples of newborn photography session and photo inspiration, you can also visit my Instagram account Ana Koska Photography.

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