Do babies need toys?

My sad, deprived baby.

When my daughter was a newborn, a family member came to visit and asked, “Where are all her toys?” 

She was about 2 months old and I — perhaps appropriately — thought it was kind of a crazy question. 

ALL her toys? She just got here! She sleeps, eats and poops. Aren’t my two boobs fun enough? She seems to think so!

And actually, we had some toys. A stuffed dog. A caterpillar rattle. Baby shower extras. Odds and ends. Things she either spit up on or ignored. 

Why? When? Which ones?

Of course, babies don’t NEED toys; and of course, babies don’t even really WANT toys. 

They don’t know toys exist! 

That said, I like having a few toys around for babies 3 months and older. The main reason I feel this way is simple: Baby toys were made for babies. They were made with a baby’s developmental interests in mind and — most important — they were made for safety. Baby toys should be soft, easy-to-handle and free of choking hazards. Most are. 

Toys are also a fun way for babies and caregivers to interact. As Baby becomes more alert, new parents often wonder, “What does my baby want to see? What does my baby want to do?”

While the big, wide, wonderful world — every inch of it — is of interest to an infant, it’s nice to have some cool things to explore and chill with on the living room floor. 

Why do I use 3 months as a starting point? Baby is more alert at this age. It’s also the age at which Baby develops a grip and learns to grasp. During quiet alert time, Baby loves to reach for objects. She loves to hold them, bang them and mouth them. 

OK. Let’s go shopping! 

My mom/doula recommendations for your baby toy chest include: 

  • A floor gym. For cooing on the kitchen floor while you cook, for tummy time, for parent-baby interaction. My favorite is anything by Baby Einstein
  • Stackers. Great for 4 to 8 months and beyond. Blocks, birds … they come in all shapes and sizes. I prefer them soft, but you can’t go wrong with the classic Fisher Price rainbow rings on the peg. (Yes, the same ones YOU played with as a kid.) 
  • Teethers. At 3 months and on, Baby is a pile of drool and wants everything in her mouth. Teeth can work through those little gums for MONTHS, often leaving Baby pretty cranky. For real relief, a cold washcloth is my go-to trick, but for something that doubles as a cute toy, everyone loves Sophie the Giraffe. (Worried about that story from Good Housekeeping? Don’t use her as a bath toy and don’t immerse her in water and she’ll stay mold free.)
  • Soft books. Babies love touching the pages and looking at the colors, especially if the pages make crinkle or rattle sounds. My faves are Peek-a-Boo Forest by Lamaze and Wild Animals by Melissa & Doug. 
  • Mirror. If your soft book or floor gym has a soft mirror, this will become Baby’s favorite toy. Babies are most interested in pictures and toys with faces. Their own faces provide endless entertainment and — dare I say — existential speculation. 

Of course, measuring cups and pots and pans are ideal for baby play, too. But you’ll want to be careful with household items not designed for play, no matter how seemingly benign. 

I’d also stay away from too many bells and whistles or gadgets. In our ever-techier modern world, Baby will be inundated with electronics enough as it is. 

Babies can better strengthen their cognitive development — and also have more fun — with toys they can handle, manipulate and explore. 

Jen Wittes is a certified postpartum doula and writer who now works in marketing and communications. She lives in St. Paul with her two kids, two cats and husband. Send questions or comments to