7 Perfect Toys to Stimulate Development After Discharge

July 15, 2021

I'm katie, OTD, OTR/L, NTMTC, CNT & founder of blooming littles

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One of the most common questions I get as a NICU occupational therapist around discharge is, “What toys does my baby need at home?”

And my response…“Your baby doesn’t need much. You are actually the best thing for your baby’s development.”

And that is true!!

But, since it’s fun to have some toys for your baby, I’ve put together this mini list that’s perfect for babies from newborn to three months corrected age.

If you want an extended list, check out THE ONLY 10 TOYS YOU NEED FOR YOUR BABY FROM BIRTH TO 6 MONTHS.

If your baby was born premature, then we use the term “corrected age” when talking about their age in relation to their developmental milestones and what we expect them to do. We start using their corrected age once they are past their due date. 

I’m a simple therapist over here, and truly believe you don’t need a lot of toys and objects to engage or support the development of your baby.

Here are the toys I recommend most often. 


An oldie, but must have. A rattle is likely the oldest toy of all time, but it is the perfect toy for those early months with your babe.

There are tons of rattles on the market. Here are a couple of questions to ask when you’re picking one out for your baby.

  1. Is the handle thin enough that my baby can actually grasp onto it?
  2. Is it lightweight?
  3. Does it have a mild, low frequency sound?

The reason I want you to think about what sound it makes is because babies who spend time in the NICU have a greater risk for sensory processing difficulties and may continue to show some signs of stress or overstimulation with too much input after they’re home. 

A rattle that has a soft, low, or even calming sound is a great option for NICU babies.

o ball

I think the O ball is on every single developmental therapist’s list of must have toys. We love the O ball!

And, there’s even an option to get one where there’s a rattle on the inside of it, so it adds a fun sensory component for your baby…although, it does make the toy a little heavier.

Why do we love it? The O ball is incredibly lightweight and perfect for your newborn to grasp onto when you place it in their hand. You can also attach it to some links and hang it from their play gym, so they can bat or kick at it.

play mat

Now, every baby doesn’t NEED a fancy playmat, but I think a designated playmat can be nice as you create a space for your baby to play. Plus, it comes with supports overhead where your baby can practice batting at toys or kicking at them on the floor. 

There are a lot of different ways to adapt the positioning of a play mat and where you place the hanging toys in order to challenge and adapt to your child’s needs, as they grow and develop new skills.

If you don’t want to get a play mat, you can put a blanket down and get one of these overhead play gyms.

infant Floor mirror

Oh goodness, I love a floor mirror for newborns and babies in that first six months of life!

Floor mirrors are a great prop to use during tummy time, especially when your baby starts to practice lifting up their head. You can also place the floor mirror next to your baby when they’re on their side to support play in a side-lying position. It gives them their own fun face to look at.

And here’s a bonus tip, go ahead and lay on the floor behind your baby, so they can see your face in the reflection of the mirror.

It’s like an early game of peek-a-boo!

Towel rolls

Guess what? You don’t even need to go buy anything for this one.

Head to your closet and grab some hand towels or bath towels!

I love using towel rolls to provide babies with postural support and stability after they get home from the NICU.

Many times, when babies have spent time in the NICU, they may struggle with bringing their hands together and lifting their shoulders off of the floor surface. 

And sometimes, preemies like to straighten their legs out and have weak ab muscles that make tucking their legs in towards their belly tough.

When towel rolls are placed in an appropriate position surrounding your baby’s body, then they’re providing stability and supporting your baby’s body in a position that supports their development and helps them do skills we want to see, like bringing hands to their mouth, or tucking their legs in toward their belly.

If you end up using towel rolls a lot at home, just keep a couple hand towels and washcloths rolled up with some masking tape to keep them rolled and ready.

Keep the towel rolls with the other toys in your main play space so they’re ready to go when you need them.


Another fan favorite, links!

Links are little plastic circles that clip together to make chains. I swear, you can never have too many of these! 

First, they get lost under couches or in the diaper bag, so we constantly need more.

Secondly, these links are perfect to use to hang toys from your play gym, or for your baby to rake and grasp onto when they’re on their belly. They’re a perfect width so your baby’s hand can grasp onto them.

Bonus tip: They’re also perfect for clipping toys to your diaper bag, so they don’t get lost deep in the depths of the bag.

Remember, when your baby is in the newborn phase, your little one isn’t able to grasp onto something with purpose yet (that comes later!). They still have a reflex called the palmar grasp….when something is placed in their hand, they grab on! Isn’t that so fun when they grasp your finger?!

Links are a great way to support and strengthen that grasp reflex.


I can’t leave your baby‘s absolute favorite thing off the list…you!

Your time, your presence, and the environment you create for your baby are what truly guide their development after they’re home from the NICU.

Take the pressure off yourself, you are your baby’s favorite right now.

Soak in the cuddles, hold your baby skin-to-skin, babywear your baby around the house, and enjoy watching them while they sleep and take in the world around them.

You’re the perfect parent for your baby.

some other fun choices

The splash tummy time play mat!

This bead noisemaker. Be aware, this can get a little bit noisy. There are ways to move the beads, so it’s more relaxing. But, it can be a really engaging toy for babies once they’re a bit older.

I want you to know, your baby really doesn’t need a lot of toys after they are discharged home from the NICU. The transition home is the start to an entirely new adventure, routine, and journey to parenting with confidence.

Give yourself lots of grace, and know that YOU are exactly what your baby needs. 

Here are some additional blogs and websites that can help you navigate the next phase of life.



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