Has your mom told you that she never “did tummy time” with you when you were a baby? Well, this purposeful play position came about in the mid 1990s when back sleeping was identified as a way to lower a baby’s risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Since the launch of that campaign, pediatricians have been urging parents to put babies on their backs to sleep and tummies to play. Obviously this is a good thing if it’s saving lives, right?
Of course! Except that as a result, newborns spend so much time on their backs that it is often difficult and uncomfortable for them to be placed on their bellies. And when babies don’t spend enough time in prone, they miss opportunities to build better head control, push up through their arms to strengthen the shoulder to hand muscles, and are susceptible to flat spots on their heads. As a result, they can struggle to reach milestones like rolling, crawling, and getting in and out of sitting. Insufficient strength in their arms and hands at this stage can even lead to difficulty with higher level fine motor skills like buttoning, cutting, and writing-yes, the foundation for these skills starts in infancy.
Here are some simple ways to make tummy time more enjoyable if your baby struggles:
Newborns: When babies are born they are curled up in a cute little flexed position, just like in the womb. Their muscles need to stretch out and their heads are HEAVY in comparison to the rest of their bodies. And because they still need to build strength in their necks and backs, it’s very difficult to lift those heads off the floor. One of the most soothing ways to help newborns tolerate tummy time is to lay them on your chest when you are in a reclined position. The rhythmic rise and fall of your chest provides familiar comfort and support, and the skin-to-skin contact offers tons of therapeutic tactile input.
1-3 month olds: As those flexor patterns begin to disappear and your baby builds strength, she’ll be more successful at lifting her head while prone. At first, her head may bob around a bit or she’ll only be able to lift it for short moments each time, but with practice, she’ll build more endurance. Around 3 months, we do want to see the head in a more neutral/midline position while in tummy time and she should start lifting her upper chest off of the floor. If you think your baby needs some support, roll a small towel and prop it horizontally under her armpits. This will help keep her head and chest up for longer. Provide lots of motivating toys for your baby to look at, or get down at eye-level—she loves to look at you!
4 months and beyond: This is when tummy time starts to get more fun. At this point, your baby should be able to maintain tummy time for longer periods and with less frustration. Around 4 months, he’ll be able to support his weight through his forearms and keep his head upright. He should start shifting his weight onto one arm while reaching for a toy with the other. By 6 months, he should be able to push himself up through extended arms and start to pivot around. This is a good time to put toys in a circle to motivate him to get moving.
While designating specific “tummy-time” is important, we never want to extend the session to a point of real distress. If your baby whines or seems mildly uncomfortable, try to switch around some toys or sing songs to help her feel more relaxed. You can also roll her in and out of this position to give a little break. If she has made it clear she’s had enough, don’t worry! She is still getting plenty of benefits from frequent small doses of only a few minutes at a time. Instead, focus on the number of opportunities throughout the day, rather than the number of minutes. Still need some more ways to make tummy time easier and more fun? We offer lots of additional tips in our course, Babies on the Move.
BOTTOM LINE: TUMMY TIME IS NOT EASY, BUT GETTING STARTED RIGHT FROM BIRTH, USING ADAPTIVE POSITIONS AND MAKING IT FUN WITH TOYS, CAN HELP YOUR LITTLE ONE ENJOY THIS CRITICAL TIME!
Check out all the tummy-time related questions other parents have asked on our FREE community here. If you have any questions, post a New Topic and we will be happy to answer you!