OK, what’s this tummy time?
It’s all in the name: it’s time babies spend on their tummies learning to lift their heads and strengthen their muscles. The “Back to Sleep” campaign (now “Safe to Sleep”) launched in the late ‘90s helped to dramatically reduce the numbers of babies dying of SIDS.
But it did coincide with an increase in flat-head syndrome, or positional plagiocephaly, as well as delays in gross motor skills of babies. To counteract that, paediatricians started to encourage parents to ensure that their babies spent time in positions other than on their backs in bed.
What does tummy time do?
Tummy time was identified as helping strengthen the muscles in the neck, arms and core which lead to better gross motor control. All of these muscles are needed for babies to learn to roll over, crawl, sit and eventually walk.
When should I start?
The good news is you can start as soon as you get home from the hospital! The better news is that you can keep it lowkey. From about 3 months old, babies should be up to about an hour of tummy time per day, but not all at once.
You can start off with just a couple of minutes when your baby is awake and happy. Initially, babies can struggle with the position because their neck muscles are too weak to hold their heads up. One way around this is to lay down yourself and place your baby on your chest. That gives them a slight lift and the motivation to look into your face!
But how exactly do I do it?
Tummy time should be fun, not torture time! Lay a clean blanket down on the floor or a padded play mat. Place a few high contrast books open or lay a few toys within easy reach for your baby to look at. You’ll work up to longer times, but 3-4 minutes at a time is sufficient for newborns.
Make sure your baby is never left unattended during tummy time, as they can easily lay their faces down and suffocate. Try to use it as an opportunity to bond, by lying down or sitting in front of them, talking to them and singing songs. When your baby starts getting fussy or crying, you can pick them up and let it be over.
Help! My baby hates tummy time!?
There will always be days it doesn’t work, and that’s OK. While tummy time is important, don’t persist with it when your baby is fussy. Here are a few things to do when your baby seems to not like tummy time.
- Lay down with your baby.
- Place some plastic mirrors around — babies usually love seeing themselves!
- If their neck control is still very wobbly, roll up a thin blanket or towel and use it to prop their chest up to help lift their face off the floor.
- Get siblings and other loved family members involved to help distract and attract attention.
But if all else fails, give it up for now. Sometimes babies (like the rest of us) just aren’t in the mood for something.
Tummy time is a great opportunity to bond and engage with your new baby in a way that stimulates them and helps them grow mentally and physically. But it’s always important to take your baby’s needs and desires into consideration too, so only do it when they are rested, fed, and happy to do so.