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Summary

• Playtime helps foster communication, motor, and sensory skills.
• The best time to play is when baby is in a quiet alert state – calm and paying attention.
• Avoid playtime during fussy, crying, or drowsy phases.

Playtime with a newborn baby is so beneficial in the early months! It helps them learn communication, exercise motor skills, sharpen their senses, and so much more. But you’ve probably noticed that your newborn spends a lot of their day sleeping, hungry or tired. Their mood depends on the different states of newborn alertness. This may lead you to ask: When is the right time for playtime with a newborn?

The best time to engage in meaningful playtime with a newborn is when they are alert and calm. Throughout the day, newborn babies move through various alert and sleep states. This is why sometimes you have a crying newborn, and only a short time later you have a drowsy newborn! Every baby is different, so the amount of time they spend in each state may vary. But most babies experience all of these states throughout the day.

Newborn state of alertness, the best time to play with baby

Here is more about the states of alertness, and the best time for playtime with a newborn baby.

Quiet Alert

Baby is in the quiet alert state when they are quiet and calm. They are enjoying being cuddled and touched, and their eyes are wide open. They seem to be hearing what’s happening in the room, and seeing the things around them, a sign that they are reacting to their environment. In other words, they’re taking it all in! The rest of their body remains calm.

This is the best time for playtime with a newborn baby! In the quiet alert state, they are calm but awake, which means they will be engaged and react to the game. This is a great way to engage your newborn in meaningful playtime!

States of Newborn Alertness: The Quiet Alert State is the best time to play with baby

Active Alert (sometimes called Alert, but Fussy)

Baby’s eyes are open when they are in the active alert state. They move around a lot and may be fussy. They may seem uncomfortable or about to cry. If they are soothed, they may go back to a quiet alert state. When in this state, they may be showing hunger cues, and may need to feed. Therefore, the active alert state is usually not the best time to play because they are hungry or uncomfortable, however it is possible to soothe baby during this state to get to a quiet alert state.

Crying

When you have a crying newborn, they are telling you they need something. They may be hungry, tired, have a dirty diaper, or may be uncomfortable in some other way. When baby is crying, it’s best to try and help them return to a calmer state by meeting their needs (for example, feeding them or changing their diaper).

This is not a good time to play with baby, because they are focused on what they need, rather than playtime.

Drowsy

This is when baby is waking from active sleep, or when they are going from awake back to sleep. Their eyes may or may not be closed when they are in the drowsy state. If baby opens eyes, they will have a glazed look and will move their body slowly. A drowsy newborn could go back to sleep.

Don’t play with baby when they are in the drowsy state, as they need sleep and won’t be engaged or react to the game.

Baby will also experience sleeping states (known as active sleep and deep sleep). It is best to let baby continue sleeping when they are in the sleeping states.

Mom playing with her newborn baby.

When baby is in the quiet alert state, it’s the best time to play and engage with them! Try out baby games with your little one during this time. Download the FREE Pathways.org Baby Milestones App for game recommendations that are perfect for baby’s age and abilities.

Download the FREE Pathways.org Baby Milestones App!

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