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Infant stimulation

What is infant stimulation?

For babies, playing stimulates their senses, and helps them learn and develop. Playing with your baby — or infant stimulation — includes activities that arouse or stimulate your baby’s sense of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell.

Infant stimulation can improve your baby’s curiosity, attention span, memory, and nervous system development. In addition, babies who are stimulated reach developmental milestones faster, have better muscle coordination, and a more secure self image.


Why is infant stimulation important in the hospital?

The hospital can be both under-stimulating and over-stimulating. It’s important to pay attention to your baby’s special needs in the hospital, so you can continue providing appropriate stimulation.


Why does my baby have special needs in the hospital?

Being hospitalized is stressful for infants. Here’s some things that can cause stress and affect your baby’s development:

  • Your baby is touched by many different people — he isn’t used to so many people taking care of him.
  • Medical care often interrupts your baby’s daily routine.
  • The staff or family members may not be able to respond to your baby’s needs as quickly as they want to.
  • Some medical procedures may be uncomfortable or painful.
  • If toys are available, they may be out of reach.
  • Lights, beepers, alarms, IVs, etc. can over-stimulate your baby.
  • Your baby might get bored being alone, in a crib for long periods, or in dull surroundings.


How can I stimulate my baby while we’re in the hospital?


Babies begin to tell the difference between light and dark before their born. At birth, an infant can clearly see an object 10–13 inches from her face. For the first three months, babies enjoy contrasting colors and patterns, especially black and white. Older infants like bright, bold colors — red, blue, green, and yellow. In the hospital, you can:

  • Give your baby toys with contrasting patterns and colors, or hang them in the crib.
  • Use mobiles, crib mirrors or crib gyms.
  • Place your face 10–13 inches from your baby.
  • Always hold and look at your baby while feeding him.
  • Play peek-a-boo.
  • Place objects so your baby can see and reach for them.
  • Show your baby pictures from a storybook as you read.
  • Hang pictures of family members on the crib.



Touching is one of the best ways to stimulate your baby. It provides contact, reassurance, relaxation, and comfort. Babies like firm and gentle stroking. Touching a variety of textures will fascinate your baby. In the hospital, you can:

  • Wash your hands before touching your baby.
  • Stroke your baby from head to toe with a different fabrics or household items (cotton ball, tooth brush, sponge, etc.).
  • Gently massage your baby.
  • Trickle water over your baby during bath time.
  • Play pat-a-cake.
  • Gently exercise your baby’s arms and legs, moving them smoothly and slowly.
  • Rock your baby — it imitates life in the womb.


Taste and Smell

Babies notice different tastes and smells. In the hospital, you can:

  • Let your baby taste and smell different things — one at a time in case of allergies.
  • Check with your doctor to see if you can feed your baby new kinds of foods.
  • Use a blanket with a little bit of your perfume on it.



A newborn’s most highly developed sense is hearing — babies can hear and remember familiar sounds months before they’re born. One of the easiest ways to calm a newborn is to hold him next to his mother’s chest so he can hear her heart. Infants seem to prefer soft and high-pitched sounds, especially a female’s voice. In the hospital, you can:

  • Talk to your baby.
  • Play musical toys or radios.
  • Shake a rattle or ring a bell from different areas of the crib.
  • Attach bells to your baby’s booties.
  • Sing to your baby.
  • Expose your baby to different sounds.
  • Read a story to your baby.
  • Don’t make loud noises or put earphones on your baby — they can easily damage his hearing.
  • Make a cassette tape of noises (a car horn, a door slamming, children laughing, your voice) for your baby to listen to.


Things to remember about infant stimulation

  1. Infants feel more secure when they can feel boundaries around them — like blankets rolled up and placed close to their sides and feet.
  2. Let your baby sit up on your lap so she can look around.
  3. Change toys so your baby doesn’t get bored.
  4. It’s best to touch the non-threatening parts of your infant’s body first (arms and legs).
  5. Stimulation will work best when an infant is alert, active and paying attention.
  6. Keep your baby warm.
  7. If your baby is being stimulated properly, he/she will smile, coo, babble, make eye contact, have alert facial expression and will interact with people or toys.
  8. If your baby gets tired or loses interest, it may mean she’s had enough stimulation and is tired. Let her rest.

From the Parent/Patient Education Series, Holmes Regional Medical Center Pediatric Services