Stimulating vs. Soothing: Which Nursery Is Better?

The following story was originally published on bloom baby.

POPSUGAR Photography | Julia Van Arsdale

There are plenty of daunting decisions to make as you prepare for your baby to arrive, from strollers to cribs to names. But decorating the nursery can feel as fraught as a family name vs. a trendy name, with concerns over how the room itself will affect baby's development in their first year. And let's not forget how odd it can feel to take your own carefully decorated home and insert tons of toys and baby gear into it.

One of the first major questions to ask is what kind of sensory environment are you looking to provide your little one — do you want them to feel stimulated and engaged by what's around them, or are you looking to provide a soothing space that works toward a goal of maximum sleep and calm? According to Dr. Laurie Wilkie of Riley Children's Health pediatric hospitalist, "Infants cannot see colors until about six months of age, so the décor of the newborn nursery isn't as important as making sure that whatever is in the nursery is safe for the baby." (She particularly emphasizes making sure the crib you use is up to current safety specifications). You can change the nursery as the baby grows to incorporate more elements or take away any that might not be as safe as the baby grows. For simultaneous stimulation and help getting to sleep, Dr. Wilkie suggests "a mobile which has bright colors and can play soothing music that can be placed over the crib, but should be removed by about five months of age or whenever baby can sit up and possibly grab it."

For new mom and interior decorator Jennifer Hunter of Jennifer Hunter Design, it's all about creating a soothing base that can grow with the baby and adding in stimulating color accents. "I try to keep, even for the clients and myself who love color, the foundation [of the nursery] very neutral. That means the carpet and the crib and the changing table and all the larger pieces are creams and neutral," says Hunter. "I think fabrics and other accents is kind of the way to go to bring in that pop of color." She suggests incorporating colorful bedding, meaningful artwork, and even a pillow on the glider.

As the baby grows, the décor of the room can develop along with them. As opposed to the first few months where safety outranks color, once the baby hits six months, you can adjust the nursery décor. As the baby becomes more active through crawling around eight months, you should remove anything from the crib or the floor that might act as a choking hazard. Hunter focuses on how to design a room that can grow with the child not only through their first year but beyond. "I always like my spaces to be versatile and grow with the child so that it can be a young adult's room as well."

Then there are the elements you can't buy off the shelf at a store. Hunter loves incorporating personal elements into the nursery, whether it's a needlepoint that's been made just for the baby or a family heirloom. For her own daughter's nursery, she had the artwork made for her birth announcement framed and hung in the room with the goal that she's creating "something special that can grow with the child and they can eventually hopefully pass down."

For Dr. Wilkie, that special element is the parents and caretakers themselves. "Babies are very much influenced by their overall environment, and the most important part of that environment is the people they see every day," she explains. "Infants need personal interaction for optimal growth and development, starting at birth. Taking the time to read to your newborn or infant every night can go a long way toward developing cognitive skills. Talking to your baby can help to develop verbal skills, and pointing out objects can help their visual skills to develop." In fact, it may be you that's the most soothing or stimulating element in your baby's nursery!

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