Occupying Baby when you're Busy

One of the first lessons every new mum learns is that nothing is simple any more. Want to take a shower? Catch a bus? Call a friend? The key is to be prepared. With a bit of imagination and a few props, you can keep your bub occupied while you get things done. Here’s how to go about it.

Taking a shower

Something as basic as washing yourself can take a back seat once you have a little one to look after. Showering while bub sleeps works for some mums but if it doesn’t work for you, just bring your baby into the bathroom with you. Don’t be tempted to forgo a shower altogether, because it’s good for your self-confidence to be dressed and ready to face the day.

According to child development consultant and mother of three Dr Cathrine Neilsen-Hewett, the most important things to remember when trying to amuse your baby are to find something your baby enjoys and incorporate variety. “I’d put my babies in a bouncer or bassinette and sit them in the bathroom with me. They can see you and you can talk to them,” she says.

“If they’re sitting up, put them on a playmat with something to play with. If they like water, bring them into the shower for water play. If they’re not with you, make sure they’re in a contained area and have the baby monitor with you.”

Shopping

Shopping with a baby is a whole new experience, as she rarely finds trawling the shops as fascinating as you do. The trick is to attach something fun to her pram. You can buy specific pram toys that clip on or use your imagination and look for other toys that can be safely attached.

Some good options are soft books, especially those with different textures, wrist rattles, foot finders and teething toys. Just make sure they can all be safely attached to your baby or the pram, because babies are notorious for flinging things away as soon as they tire of them. You’ll find that you’re constantly retrieving, or losing, them otherwise.

Car trips

First rule of thumb: avoid travelling in the car at your baby’s mealtime. Pull over to feed her or leave later or earlier. It’s not advisable to give under-ones food in the car in case they choke on it.

“When my 10-year-old daughter was a baby, we had children’s story and song tapes to keep her entertained,” says Dr Neilsen-Hewett. “One day, the tape mangled and I had to sing for 45 minutes! These days, there are beautiful CDs for the car. Older babies especially like action songs, such as ‘touch your nose/ears’ etc.”

Making a phone call

Dr Neilsen-Hewett advises arranging a distraction before making the call. “I used to put my babies in front of a mirror where they could look at themselves. It’s fun for them and also important for their self-development,” she says.

You may also walk around the house with bub on your hip so she can look at things while you talk. Another option is to go outside, so bub can have sensory play (with flowers, for instance) while you talk.

Formal occasions

“Don’t take the baby unless you have to,” advises Dr Neilsen-Hewett. “Think about getting a babysitter – some downtime and time to ‘regroup’ for you is just as important as time spent interacting with the baby.”

If you do decide to take baby or feel she is too young to leave, find a seat up the back or where you can exit easily if need be. Take quiet toys, such as books and multi-purpose toys that she won’t tire of quickly. Soft books and lift-the-flap books are ideal. A little photo album of people she knows is another good idea. If you run out of toys, try finger play.

Public transport

Babies’ interests and abilities are constantly changing, so observe what your baby is most interested in and take those toys with you. Multi-purpose toys are often a good choice. Before you get the toys out, spend some time pointing to things of interest, both inside and out. If all else fails, sing (quietly!).

Attention!

What attention span can you expect from your baby? Babies’ attention spans can vary widely. Babies with a more difficult temperament generally have lower levels of attention. From newborn, their attention span is usually only a few seconds. But by 12 months of age, it may be five to 10 minutes of sustained attention. Children are capable of longer attention when they’re doing something that they enjoy. But you should always be prepared to stop the game or activity if they show they have had enough.

Is TV okay for babies?

The current thinking is ‘no’. Paediatric experts are telling us that television can over-stimulate children under the age of two, as well as slow down their language development and even increase their likelihood of developing ADHD later in life.

Dr Neilsen-Hewett says that if you do occasionally put your baby in front of the television, you shouldn’t expect her to learn or benefit from it. “I would advise very short doses of television and not often. All it represents is a bit of sanity or downtime for you. And never have screen time before bedtime, as it can lead to over-stimulation and sleep disturbance.”