By: Keri Ann Wilmot
When a new baby arrives, as parents, grandparents and friends, we naturally look to celebrate such an exciting occasion with a special welcoming gift.
As a pediatric occupational therapist, I have worked with infants for almost two decades, teaching parents how to help babies through their many stages of development. We work together as a baby begins to smile, reach for toys, learns to comfort themselves and interacts with their parents and the world around them, all in a fun and playful way. And as a mom myself, I have had my own fair-share of parenting wins and struggles, I’ll never forget the first time my son smiled at me, after we emerged from a long sleep deprived night!
Friends and family frequently ask my opinion and advice about all of the gear and toys that are needed to to prepare for a baby’s first year. Do not let a store or registry full of fancy car seats, strollers and carriers overwhelm you when choosing a gift!
I can tell you, as one whose profession focuses on what a baby and their families might appreciate, when finding a gift for a newborn, there are some very simple gifts that are often overlooked, which are often the nicest and most cherished gifts of all!
1. A Special Doll or “Lovey”
Soft, smooth or silky fabrics; plush, velvet, pliable, cushioned – these terms describe objects babies can relate to long before they can recognize the idea of a doll or a stuffed rabbit. In our profession, we think of them as “comfort items” or “security objects”. But to a baby, they simply feel lovely. Sometime they’re no more than a piece of blanket, offering fabric and textures that sooth and delight as they touch the baby’s skin or are explored by tiny fingers. And for an infant, this process is more than just enjoyment, these comfort items can help a baby feel secure, and assist them in feeling calmer and recovering from small setbacks. Children learn the powerful lesson of self-soothing through the use and connection to what I often call, their “lovies”.
Baby’s First has created a doll named Ivy, to help babies learn to self-calm. Truth be told, Ivy doesn’t look like much of a doll. But that’s the point. The team at Baby’s First really understood what tiny infants needed and created a combination of a soft, smooth blanket and a sweet doll. The fabric is pliable and textured just right for the tiniest hands. Instead of placing feet and hands on the doll, there are tiny knots, just the right size for a baby to hold and manipulate with their fingers, or self-soothe, as they chew and gnaw on the toy when teething.
While Ivy may not be everyone’s idea of a doll, it was carefully designed to be a baby’s first comfort item which can be loved and cherished for years.
2. Swaddling Blankets
Giving a new parent the gift of sleep is priceless! Babies require sleep to grow and develop. But parents also need several hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, to be at their best for their new role as guardians and caregivers.
To help a baby drift off to sleep easily and to stay asleep longer, I’ve found that some babies respond well to a swaddling blanket. For those babies, we believe that the experience may simulate the comforting feeling of being back in their mother’s womb. Positioning the baby properly is important, and thankfully many of the best swaddling blankets have fool-proof Velcro closures, so new Mom’s, Dad’s and grandparents, can get the just-right swaddle every time.
3. Sensory Rattles
Babies learn to play much faster than we think! Long before babies are able to hold a toy or rattle in their hands, they will notice bright colors and begin to interact by smiling at their parents and watching the environment around them.
Sensory rattles have vibrant, inviting colors and are designed in fabrics that have textures, color and sounds that stimulate, delight and interest babies, whether it be ribbons to feel in their fingers, or fabric that jingles or crinkles. Many sensory toys have clips that attach them to strollers and car seats for on-the- go entertainment.
4. Board Books or Soft Books
It is never too early to begin building a book library! Reading with an infant, from day one, instills not only a love for learning, but can help a baby by improving their chances for better language and communication skills as they grow.
Gifting board books and fabric books that have inviting pictures, rhyming text, sturdy pages, flaps to lift and sensory textures, will encourage families to enjoy and explore reading together early on.
5. A Nursery Sound Soother
As mentioned before, sleep is vital to a baby’s health. Designing a sleep schedule and routine for a baby is one of the most important things a parent can do. Many parents find that nursery sound machines and crib toys that sing lullabies, play environmental sounds, and offer white noise, can help baby drift off to sleep easier on their own, and remain asleep throughout the night. Every child is different in their likes and interests. Many nursery soothers have customizable features that allow parents to change settings based upon what their baby likes.
Becoming a parent is exciting and overwhelming. Your friends and family members will definitely need your support. They will be so appreciative of unique gifts that offer the new family and baby, both comfort and entertainment, as they learn to take on the world together, one day at a time.
Keri Wilmot is a full-time pediatric occupational therapist with nearly two decades of clinical experience, working with infants, young children and their families. To further her work, she developed a talent for discovering developmental toys that might promote a child’s skills in natural and playful ways, and has shared those insights with parents and caregivers through her website, ToyQueen.com.