Tummy time – babies either love it or they hate it.
Some babies are happy and content playing on their tummy, yet other babies will start crying as soon as they’re placed on their tummies.
Health workers recommend tummy time as an important activity to do with your baby.
But is it really important, especially if they don't like it?
And if so, how can you make it more enjoyable for your baby and therefore easier on you?
Why Does Tummy Time Exist?
Before the launch of the Back To Sleep campaign in the early 90’s, most babies slept on their tummies. This gave babies the opportunity to strengthen the muscles to lift their heads and shoulders while in this position. It also meant babies were used to being on their tummies.
The Back To Sleep campaign raised awareness of safe sleeping habits for babies and the importance of putting babies to sleep on their backs. This change in sleep positions has greatly reduced the number of babies dying as a result of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
On top of sleeping on their backs, many babies also spend a lot of time in car seats, bouncy chairs and prams. This means babies are spending far longer on their backs than before and much less time on their tummies. Simply put, this means they have less time to work on strengthening certain muscles.
The Benefits Of Tummy Time
Spending time on her tummy allows your baby to develop control of her head and body. Babies learn to control their heads first, then their shoulders, and then all the way down to their toes. Once she has mastered head control, your baby will be able to have a good look at the world around her. Tummy time gives your baby the opportunity to strengthen the muscles she needs to prepare her for rolling, crawling, and pulling herself up.
If you use toys to entertain your baby during tummy time, she’ll also be working on her fine motor skills as she tries to reach out and grab them. This kind of play is also good for her coordination as she masters how to get her arms to reach out to the toy.
Tummy time is also important simply because it reduces the amount of times babies spend on their backs. Though on their backs is the safest place for babies to sleep, it is important to reduce the amount of waking time they spend in this position. Babies have softer skulls than adults and lying in one position for too long can actually change the shape of the developing skull. Some babies develop what appear to be flat areas at the back of their heads from spending too much time lying on their backs. Lying your baby on her tummy for playtime is thought to help the skull to develop correctly.
Tummy Time: The Basics
You can start tummy time immediately after the birth. Lie back, place your baby on her tummy on your chest and enjoy some skin-to-skin under a blanket. This can be your very first session of tummy time and can happen when your baby is just a few minutes old. As she tries to lift her head so she can gaze into your eyes, she’ll be starting that important process of muscle development.
You should only ever attempt tummy time when your baby is happy and contented. If she’s grumpy, she isn’t going to enjoy tummy time and it’s likely to end in tears.
If your baby cries or shows any signs of discomfort, it’s time to pick her up. You can try again later when she’s in a better mood. It’s hard work for babies to strengthen all those muscles, so she might tire easily. Make sure you give her a big cuddle after tummy time. You might only manage a few seconds on your first attempt, but this will gradually increase as your baby grows stronger.
Top Positions For Tummy Time
#1: On Your Chest
Your baby feels safest when snuggled up on your chest, so it makes sense to start there. This reduces the risk of your baby getting upset and means she has some great motivation for lifting her head up (your smiling, loving face!). Having tummy time on your chest is a great option for very young babies.
#2: On The Floor
Babies need a firm surface so that they can push themselves up during tummy time. Place a blanket or baby mat on the floor, and place your baby on her tummy.
#3: On A Bed
Lie your baby on her tummy on your bed so that her head is near the edge, and her body is safely toward the centre of the bed. From there she should have a pretty good view of the room. Sit on the floor in front of her and chat to your baby.
#4: On Your Knees
If you are sitting up on a sofa or chair, you could try laying your baby across your knees for tummy time. She’ll be able to see quite a lot from up there, and you will be able to soothe her by gently stroking her back.
#5: In The Air
As your baby gets older, say around four months, you can get a little more adventurous. Lie on the floor, with your legs together. Lay your baby from your knees to your feet, so that she’s facing you. Make sure you’re firmly holding onto your baby so that she’s secure. Now try lifting your knees of the floor so that the baby is ‘flying’.
Top Tips For Tummy Time:
- Making tummy time a regular part of your routine will reduce the risk of you forgetting to do this important activity. Try doing a couple of minutes of tummy time after each nappy change. If your baby is on a changing table, make sure you hold onto her so she doesn’t roll off. You never know when they’re going to roll for the first time!
- Don’t place her on her tummy after a big feed because this could be uncomfortable for her.
- Make sure you place your baby on something comfortable. A baby mat or blanket on the floor are both good options, hardwood flooring isn’t because your baby could hurt herself.
- Have some toys to hand. Brightly coloured toys, and noisy toys are great options for things to distract your baby during tummy time. Hold them up so she can see them and let her try to reach for them. Give your baby objects of different colours, shapes and textures to explore during tummy time.
- As your baby grows stronger, you could try placing toys just out of her reach so she can try to propel herself towards them to explore.
- Mirrors are another great prop for tummy time, your baby will be fascinated by her reflection so hold the mirror up in front of her.
- Make sure your baby can see you during tummy time, don’t go out of her view.
- Talk and sing to your baby throughout tummy time to reassure her, she loves the sound of your voice.
- Make sure you allow for a few short sessions of tummy time each day.
Spending time in a stretchy wrap snuggled up against your chest can also help your baby to build up those neck and shoulder muscles. Your baby will jiggle around to get comfortable and reach her head up to see you, so will be strengthening her muscles then. You also have the added benefit that she’s not in a car seat or pram, so she isn’t lying on her back when she’s nestled in the sling.
If your baby is unhappy on her tummy on the floor, then hold your tummy time sessions on your chest instead. Keep trying her on other surfaces, because she will one day be happy on her tummy on the floor, but there’s no need to force it if she isn’t there yet. Tummy time on your chest will work just as well for strengthening muscles and developing muscle control and motor skills.