Well, the secret’s out. We’re expecting! And as I contemplate the inevitable chaos of introducing an infant into all of our lives there’s one idea that brings me a huge amount of peace and calm. It’s the notion that babies can actually entertain themselves.
I was first introduced to this idea by Janet Lansbury and if you want to explore this further, I highly recommend her website janetlansbury.com It’s filled with information about how to be respectful to even the youngest infants and some of the underlying messages I’ve gotten from her work with babies are:
1) You don’t have to be Super-Mom, you’re already a super mom.
2) You don’t need to hold your baby for every second of the day to foster proper bonding and development.
3) Ultimately, even newborn babies are really good at meeting their own needs for learning and entertainment, when given the opportunity for independent play.
Sometimes these ideas seem to fly in the face of all of the attachment parenting information out there, but I don’t think the ideas are really at odds at all. In fact, I think that when we provide the nurturing and responsive environment for our children that we naturally want to give them, they respond by needing less reassurance and wanting more independence.
This is certainly what I’ve seen with my first daughter. As soon as she feels safe and comfortable, she’s ready to take on a new task or skill and she almost always wants to do it herself.
Even as a tiny infant, when she was fed, rested, and we were fighting a diaper rash, we’d leave her strapped to her changing table with a pre-fold underneath her just in case, put on some music and she would stay there happily for up to half an hour!
Other times I’d simply lay her down on a soft blanket on the floor, offer her one or two toys to explore and leave the room. And again, as long as her physical needs were met, she would rarely call out for me. So I got to fold laundry, cook dinner, or do whatever else I’d been neglecting for up to half an hour before she needed another diaper change or to nurse or some help falling asleep.
So if you’re a first time mom and are worried about how you’ll keep your baby entertained, or if you have other kids and you’re pretty sure the new baby won’t get the same kind of undivided attention that your first baby got, fear not. You can relax and trust your baby to learn and grow perfectly, even without your constant attention.
There are a few keys to encouraging this kind of independent play in infants (and toddlers for that matter) Here’s a quick check list:
1) Safety first—Make sure the space is safe from anything that could harm your baby, even if they move farther than you expect (because they probably will!). Check for long cords, electrical outlets, furniture that’s unstable (it’s best to attach bookcases to the wall), fluffy bedding, choking hazards etc.
2) Less is more—Young babies really don’t need 12 toys that blink and play music. A simple ball, a cloth or wooden teether, or even a kitchen utensil may be enough stimulation for a young developing brain. Some babies don’t even need a toy, they can be content just learning to move their bodies and looking around at the things in the room or in my daughter’s case, listening to music.
3) Give them space and time—If you’re not accustomed to leaving your baby alone, this one can be challenging. It’s an exercise in trust and an opportunity for self care. But remember, offering your baby this time is helping him develop a longer attention span, reminding him that he’s safe, even when he’s left alone, and laying a strong foundation of self-reliance.
4) Be within earshot and available—Infants need to know that we’re there and available when they need us, so be sure you’re within earshot and available to respond quickly either verbally or physically if your baby cries out. When we respond quickly to their needs, babies relax and are able to feel safe even when we’re out of the room. But if we fail to respond when they need our help, we’re breaking a fragile trust and infants will easily learn to object to our being out of sight in order to be sure we’ll be there when they need us.
Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that you leave your newborn alone for hours at a time or even for several hours a day, but the idea that we must be interacting with our babies 24/7 is just an impossible dream that undermines our own sanity.
Yes, it’s incredibly important to make eye contact, smile, talk to, hold, and sing to your baby. And I already know you’re doing those things. This is just a reminder that there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t take a shower, read a novel, or talk on the phone with a friend, even when you have an infant in the house.
And when we give our babies time alone, we’re not just taking care of ourselves by giving ourselves a much needed break, we’re also helping them develop crucial skills and allowing them to learn and grow at their own pace.
I’m curious, do you give your baby alone time? Or does this idea seem foreign? I would love to hear about your experiences. Please share your story with the rest of us!
And have a lovely week, Shelly