Tummy time is a phrase most parents have some understanding of, especially those with infants. Babies sleep upwards of 15 hours a day with naps and bedtime included, so most of their day is spent laying on their backs. Tummy time is an important developmental activity for babies of all ages.
What Is Tummy Time?
Tummy time, or belly time as it is sometimes called, is when an infant spends supervised time lying on his stomach. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns that tummy time should always take place when an infant is awake and alert. Baby should be closely monitored by an adult and placed only on a solid surface, such as the floor. Leaving an infant unattended during tummy time is one risk factor for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Why Is Tummy Time Important?
The first years of a child's life set the stage for the habits he will carry for the rest of his life. Healthychildren.org suggests that tummy time helps prepare baby for milestones like sitting, crawling, and even walking. There are three major reasons why tummy time for all infants is important:
- Regular tummy time will help strengthen and increase flexibility in the neck, back, and shoulder muscles baby needs to meet milestones.
- The AAP advises that tummy time can help prevent the development of a flat spot on the back of baby's head.
- Time on his belly allows baby to explore his environment in a new way, encouraging confidence, independence, and spacial awareness of his body.
Tips For Promoting Tummy Time
Parents can start incorporating tummy time into baby's life even while still in the hospital. For newborns, tummy time should center on physical support from a parent rather than a hard surface such as the floor. The experts at Pathways.org suggest that tummy time for newborns should focus more on carrying and calming techniques. Placing baby on his tummy while laying on mom or dad allows parents the chance to rock and soothe baby at the same time. Varying the position you hold your baby in can promote some of the same muscle development as floor tummy time activities and increase comfort with being on her belly. As baby gets older, tummy time can become more playful.
The basic guidelines for tummy time at any age are as follows:
- Support baby's head when necessary
- Always supervise tummy time with infants
- Place baby on a solid surface (not a bed or couch)
- Encourage tummy time in 5-10 minute active breaks throughout the day
- Offer active time at baby's most content time of the day -when she is rested, fed, and happy
Parents should strive to expose baby to a variety of positions throughout the day. Setting up regularly scheduled tummy times can help your baby get accustomed to this as a natural position. Use daily markers such as after nap, bath, or a diaper change as indicators for the start of tummy time to make it easier for multiple caregivers to ensure an appropriate amount of tummy time throughout the day.
Tummy Time Activities for Younger Babies
Healthychildren.org has a detailed list of tummy time activities appropriate for newborns and very young babies. They suggest starting while still in the hospital because the earlier you start, the more likely your baby will accept it as a natural position.
- Tummy to tummy: Parent should sit in a reclined position with back and head support. Lay baby, tummy down, on your stomach or chest. Talk in funny voices, use eye contact, and play up facial expressions to get baby's attention.
- Lap time: Parent should be in a comfortable and supportive seated position with legs straight in front. Place baby, tummy down, lengthwise across your lap with her head supported. For added stimulation you can slowly raise and lower your legs or move them side to side while holding baby securely.
- Football hold: Carry baby close to your body, tummy down, with your arm between his legs and one hand on his belly.
- Muscle massage: After bath time, keep baby on her tummy and gently massage her body from head to toe to stimulate neck, shoulder, and back muscles.
- Side lying with support: If your baby isn't particularly fond of tummy time, this may be the place to start for you. Lay baby on his side with a rolled up towel propped against his back and a small folded washcloth under his head for support. Bring both of baby's arms and legs forward and bend knees for added comfort.
For babies who really hate time on their belly, try singing or using a rocking motion while trying any of these activities
Tummy Time Activities for Older Babies
Infants and young children develop motor skills as vastly different rates. Most babies begin crawling between 7-10 months so tummy time near this age can take on a much more active and engaging role.
- Place favorite toys or new toys in front of baby during tummy time to encourage her to look up and try reaching.
- Read an entertaining book to baby while he lies on his belly, being sure to hold the book at his eye level.
- Expose baby to a variety of textures by changing up the tummy time location throughout the day. Any clean floor, a nap mat, or secured blankets can offer baby a new experience. The friction of her skin against these surfaces lets her know where her body is located in space.
- Practice tracking by holding an exciting object 6-12 inches from baby's face and moving it back and forth slowly.
- Utilize toys with high contrast colors, primary color patterns, with mirrors, and that make interesting noises to keep baby engaged.
- Turn on music to sing and dance with baby while you both lay on your belly.
- If the usual supplies just aren't working, try using a play mat with supportive pillows specifically designed for tummy time. These mats support baby's chest and provide toys that intrigue all five senses.
- Lie on your back with your knees up. Place baby, tummy down, along your shins with his head at your knees. Hold baby securely and lightly bounce your legs. Bring your knees to your head to give baby a kiss.
Distraction can be key when dealing with older babies who hate tummy time. Try making funny gestures or dancing to music in front of baby during tummy time. If your efforts can't be seen through tear-strained eyes, take a break and try again later.
Encourage Tummy Time With Your Baby
With babies spending so much time on their backs, tummy time is essential for core, motor, and sensory development. Join your baby during this important time to not only strengthen your bond, but also strengthen your baby.