Top Tips For Tackling Tummy Time
Tummy time is one of those necessary evils of parenting - at least it always was for me. My son was not a fan of this activity, designed to build muscle strength in the neck and shoulders of your infant and promote motor skill development. Though it may seem uncomfortable for your baby, this is an important activity that will serve them well as they build strength for rolling over, sitting up, crawling, and walking. Tummy time also helps to prevent positional plagiocephaly, or flat spots on the head. Rest assured, the wiggling and fussing that your baby does during tummy time is what’s helping to build their strength.
Tummy time is a pretty simple activity that should always be performed while your baby is awake and supervised. It is done by simply placing your child on their stomach for anywhere between five and eight minutes, two to three times a day. You can lay your baby on a soft blanket or play mat on a clean, flat surface. You should always be present during tummy time to ensure your infant remains safe. As your baby gets used to this activity, you can begin lengthening the time to approximately 10 minutes and place small, age appropriate toys within reach. I’ve also found it helpful to lay beside my son, so that he can see me. I talk to him, smile, make noises, and let him know that I’m there. This process is often more difficult for mommy than baby, since we can’t bare to see our little ones struggle. But just know, you are doing something positive for your child’s overall development.
Here are a few more things to keep in mind when beginning tummy time with your infant.
1. Know When to Start
Your baby is likely ready to tackle tummy time shortly after arriving home from the hospital. Though this may seem too early, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it’s never too early to start. Your baby was in the fetal position for 9 months and it’s now time for them to flex their muscles in a different way, counteracting this familiar position. If you can’t bring yourself to lay your newborn baby on their belly first thing, you can use small steps to introduce your infant to this position. Try lying back on the couch, or in a chair and let baby lay on your chest or even across your lap. You can also carry your infant like a football across your forearm, with their head carefully placed in your palm. All of these positions are a great introduction for both mommy and baby to the world of tummy time.
Why is it so important to begin tummy time right away? Your infant’s body is in the prime condition for developing strength and skills. The sooner you introduce the belly-down position to your infant, the more quickly they’ll accommodate to this beneficial practice. If you delay tummy time, your child’s reflexes will begin to disappear, which means they’ll be less likely to tolerate the face down position.
2. Added Benefits
When starting tummy time with your infant at just a few weeks old, you might discover that one of their favorite things to do is mouth their hands. This is common since your baby’s hands are likely tucked under them, held close to their face. But did you know that this practice is actually essential to sensory and tactical skill development? Mouthing one’s hands also benefits oral development and is a great self-soothing skill. When a baby is constantly laid on his or her back, they lack the strength and development to bring their hands to their face and mouth. Tummy time provides them the natural and comfortable position to explore these abilities.
As your infant reaches the age of three or four months old, they will begin to lift their head periodically during tummy time, in an effort to explore the world around them. It’s important to note that your baby may begin tummy time by simply laying with their cheek flat on one side, lifting their heads momentarily, and switching positions, resting on the opposite cheek. Your baby will soon learn to hold their head at midline and lift themselves up on their hands, which is known as a prone prop position. Tummy time is a great time for your baby to explore their newfound strength, skills and the world around them.
3. Try a Few Different Approaches
Because every infant is uniquely beautiful, they all won’t react the same way to tummy time. What works for one newborn may not work for another. All children develop at different speeds as well, so tummy time, like much of motherhood, is about trial and error. There are some creative approaches you can take if your infant is resistant to tummy time and others that will enrich the experience for you both.
Try allowing your infant to practice tummy time minus their clothing. Time spent naked will give your little one an additional sensory experience. Without the barrier of clothing between your infant’s skin and the ground, they’ll be able to feel and sense things they may have missed before. As your baby wiggles and squirms on the ground, they’re actually gaining a sense and understanding of how their bare body reacts to the hard surface beneath them. They’re also learning about pressure and stretching, known as proprioception.
Another creative option for tummy time is utilizing an exercise ball. Place a soft blanket or towel across the ball, creating a comfortable surface for baby. Then, carefully and with constant supervision, support your infant’s body across the top of the ball, tummy down. You’d be surprised to find how alert and awake your baby will appear once placed on this rounded, responsive surface. If you’re practicing tummy time on the floor, placing some of your infant’s favorite toys nearby will act as motivation for them to reach and stretch for these items. And of course, one of baby’s favorite play items is mommy! Lying down next to your newborn and quietly saying their name will also encourage additional movement as they try to locate where your voice is coming from.
Trust the Process
If your baby is anything like my son, they won’t react kindly to your first attempts at tummy time. But rest assured that if you trust the process and remain consistent with your tummy time routine, your newborn will quickly get used to this daily activity and actually enjoy it. As they wiggle, move, and discover the amazing things their bodies can do, they will build strength and awareness, both mentally and physically. Tummy time is laying the groundwork for a bright future for your little one.
I am a 32-year-old mother and wife of a police officer living in NJ. I have my MFA in creative nonfiction and 10 years writing experience. When I'm not writing I enjoy hot yoga, cardio kickboxing, running, and camping.
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