Most parents know that tummy time is really important for their baby, but many babies just seem to hate tummy time! Babies are placed on their backs so often for safety reasons, especially when they are napping or sleeping. The result can be the development of flat spots on the baby’s head, as well as developmental delays. Colic and reflux can make tummy time even more unpleasant for babies. But take heart! This article will help you learn why tummy time is so important, and get some tips and advice on how to make it more pleasurable for you and your baby.
Why is Tummy Time So Important?
Tummy time plays a critical role in infant development. Before the Back to Sleep campaign, babies spent much more time on their stomachs, and this position is very natural and important for babies. It provides the base for proper motor skill development, such as head control, rolling, and pulling up. Since babies have been sleeping on their backs, there has been a great increase in the number of infants who have mild delays in gross motor skills. Another side effect has been the increase in baby flat head syndrome (plagiocephaly and brachycephaly). Diligently working on tummy time can help to prevent and even treat flat spots on the baby’s head.
Tummy Time Benefits
Here are some of the benefits that your little one will get from spending time on the tummy:
- Strengthens the neck and upper body muscles
- Prevents baby flat head syndrome (plagiocephaly and brachycephaly)
- Improves trunk stability
- Better limb coordination
- More head control
- Strengthens core muscles
Developing those core muscles is really important for head control and for reaching important developmental milestones such as sitting, standing, pulling up, crawling, and walking. It has been proven that babies who spend more time on their tummies will reach these milestones faster.
How to Get Started Doing Tummy Time
You should start tummy time when your baby is a newborn. The earlier you start, the easier it will be! The best way to do it is to try to make it fun for your baby, and a regular part of his or her playtime. It shouldn’t be a chore! Your baby may not love it at first, but take heart that the more you do it, the more your baby will enjoy it. An easy way to get started with a very young baby is to lay the baby tummy down on your chest or belly, or across your lap (this is also a good position for burping).
How much tummy time should I do?
Eventually about half the time that a baby spends playing each day should be spent on the tummy, but your baby may need a few months to work up to this amount of time. You can start with as little as 30 seconds if that is all your baby will tolerate, and work up to 30 minute periods. Just try to do it as frequently as you can.
Tummy Time Tips
- Do frequent, short sessions of tummy time. Gradually over time the baby will get more comfortable and you will be able to lengthen your sessions
- Pick up your baby when he or she starts to fuss or cry, and move on to another activity
- Set up a regular schedule, such as after naps or diaper changes (or both!)
- Avoid placing your baby on the tummy right after eating, it will be uncomfortable and you may end up with a mess!
- Set yourself a goal each day – I used to aim for at least 5 tummy sessions per day
- Use a cushion, boppy pillow, or a rolled up towel under the baby’s chest, with the arms forward. Tummy time mats with attached cushions are really helpful. Check 6 Tummy Time Products to Eliminate Flat Head Syndrome.
- Rub the baby’s back, give them a little soothing massage
- Distract your baby – sing, get out a favorite toy, use a safe mirror, play peek-a-boo, do whatever it takes even if you feel silly!
- Get down on the floor at eye level with your baby
- Encourage all the baby’s caretakers to get involved
- If your baby really won’t tolerate being set down on the tummy, continue to lay with the baby on your chest or tummy, or across your lap, until they get more comfortable in that position
These are not substitutes for tummy time, but there are other alternate positions that also can build up your baby’s strength, help with their development, and prevent flat head syndrome.
- Carry your baby on your shoulder, but be sure to alternate shoulders so the baby develops neck muscles evenly and looks in both directions (this can be very helpful with torticollis)
- Carry your baby in the football hold
- Sit your baby upright on your lap (supported if your baby needs it)
- Use an infant seat such as a bumbo or Summer Infant seat (I love this one because it has toys attached and converts to a booster seat)
- Put your baby in an exersaucer when they are old enough (not a walker)
With time, patience, and repetition, all babies will come to enjoy tummy time. The many benefits for their health and development are worth the effort it takes. The more comfortable a baby is on the tummy, the less time they will naturally spend on the back of the head, which will help to prevent flat spots from plagiocephaly and brachycephaly.
Please leave a comment below if you have other tummy time activities that have worked for you! And let us know if this has been helpful. Thank you!