There is now widespread knowledge of the importance of tummy time for babies. Since the increase of newborns and infants sleeping on their back due to the risk of SIDs, they are not receiving as much time on their bellies in order to stimulate the muscles needed for head control and trunk and arm strength.
Tummy time is vital for babies to strengthen their neck extensor muscles, allowing them to hold their head upright. It also improves strength in the arms, hands and fingers for fine motor skills and sensory stimulation to all the joints on the front of their body.
When babies are in tummy time, they are receiving input and pressure to most of their joints, including wrists, fingers, and elbows. This helps develop those muscles that will be useful when they start to sit up and crawl, as well as grab, explore, and manipulate objects.
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Not only does tummy time provide infinite benefits for babies, it is shown to make a huge difference in children’s motor skills down the road which become more evident when your child reaches school age. These muscles are important for good posture, handwriting, and even athletics.
It’s also a great position if you’re concerned about your baby getting flat spots on his head because of laying on their back too much or in a swing, car seat, or other gear. Tummy time can relieve the pressure they would normally be feeling while they lie on their backs. Read more on my post about How to Prevent a Flat Head in your Baby.
How to get started
You can start tummy time from day 1 literally! Just the skin to skin contact of baby laying on your chest in the hospital is considered tummy time. My husband loved taking naps with our little newborn while she was laying on his chest. Your baby will want to start picking their head up to look at your face and this helps with neck strength.
Of course, babies aren’t going to like being on their tummies at first. It may seem that your baby hates tummy time or gets agitated in being on his or her belly, but don’t give up! The more you expose them to tummy time, they will eventually get used to it.
Once they start being able to turn their head, reach, and fixate on objects, it will become more enjoyable. You’ll be happy that you stuck with it through the cries because you know the benefit that your baby is receiving.
Because of the push for babies to sleep on their back, don’t be nervous to put your baby on their belly as soon as you bring them home from the hospital! Try it for a couple minutes at a time and work your way up to longer times. Just make sure that you’re very close and watching them to ensure their head is turned to the side so they can breathe well.
If your baby hates tummy time at the moment, take him out of that position and try it again at another time. You don’t want him to associate it with being in that much distress. Here are some tummy time tips to make it a little more enjoyable for them.
Tummy Time Tips
Follow the helpful activities and tips below to get your baby more interested in tummy time.
The earlier you start tummy time with your baby, the sooner they will tolerate it. Again, you can place baby on their tummies from day 1 as long as you are watching them closely.
Provide stimulating toys at an appropriate distance
Make sure you have objects or toys around that your baby can look at it or hear while in tummy time. You wouldn’t want to lay in an uncomfortable position by yourself with no entertainment! The objects should be largely contrasting colors, for example black and white or very colorful.
If your baby is under 2 months, the best distance for them to see is about 8-10 inches away from their face. If they still can not lift their head up, place the objects to the side of their face so they can see them. You can also engage them with toys that make sounds, for example crinkle books or playing music.
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Get on their level
Let baby practice tummy time while laying on a couch or bed while you’re sitting on the floor. This makes it easier on you to be face to face with them and they love looking at mom and dad. While you’re down there, make sure to entertain them with stimulating toys as well.
Give them a massage
Why should adults be the only ones who get massages? Newborn massage is great for them to start feeling and discovering parts of their body. When you massage them, they are starting to get a sense of where their body is in space, including all their limbs being attached to them. So when baby is on his belly, gently rub or massage all the parts of his body, from his toes to his back and out to his finger tips.
Babies love the shushing sound. So if you notice that they are starting to get irritated, whisper shush sounds in their ear. This always seems to calm down my baby.
Use this tummy time water mat
Once your baby is a couple months old, they will love this Inflatable Tummy Time Water Mat! It provides so much stimulation and they will have fun trying to ‘catch the fish’. It’s also easier to wipe clean than traditional mats and will keep them focused for much more time.
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Lay them on your chest
Newborns are really attracted to contrast and faces although their vision is still developing well after they are born. By laying them on your chest, they are feeling the comfort of your body warmth and snuggles and working on lifting their head so they can look at your face. Just be sure not to fall asleep with them laying on you, as this has been known to increase the risk of SIDs
Let them take a nap
It’s ok to let your baby fall asleep on their belly while you’re still awake and close by. Put baby on their belly when it seems like they’re drowsy, but not irritable, and see if they will fall asleep like that. They are still getting used to being on their tummies even if they’re not awake.
Also, if your baby likes to take naps on your chest, once he is asleep, carefully place him on the floor or a tummy time mat to sleep. Again make sure you are awake and close by.
Prop them up on a boppy or newborn lounger
Put the Boppy under their chest and neck with their arms in front of them. The slight incline may make it a little more tolerable for them. If they have some head control, you can also try to bend their elbows in front of them so that they are resting on their arms, instead of positioning their arms behind them.
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Use a floor mirror
Floor mirrors provide stimulation so baby can see their reflection. Make sure it is within 8-10 inches away from their face for optimal vision in the early months.
Don’t give up
Just because you think your baby hates tummy time and is not warming up to the idea at all, don’t stop trying! Keep it up for just a couple minutes every day and I promise they will learn to tolerate it. Once they are able to hold their head up a little better and can look around, they will love it!
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