You might be familiar with the idea that babies should sleep on their backs, but did you know that “tummy time” is critically important for babies. In my opinion tummy is one of the most important things that parents can do to set the path for healthy babies.
What’s tummy time? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like! Simply, tummy time is a basic form of physical activity where babies rest on their stomachs on a soft surface while alert and awake (and supervised closely by an adult). Most babies that come into our office don’t get enough tummy time, whether because information about it is less widespread or because some babies may not appear to enjoy it at first.
Tummy time is now recommended by national guidelines in the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa, and other countries worldwide. Experts advise spending 30 minutes to an hour each day in tummy time, up until your baby is about 6 months old. My personal recommendation is 2-5 minutes EACH hour that your little one is awake and at least 5 minutes after naps and/or long car rides.
Why is tummy time important for my baby? Research has shown positive effects of tummy time on infants’ healthy motor development, as well as negative effects of not getting enough tummy time in the early months. Spending time lying in the “prone” position on their tummies helps babies stretch and strengthen their head, neck, shoulder, and back muscles, which are critical to reaching later motor milestones like sitting up, crawling, and walking. Tummy time can also help babies develop their sensory, perception, balance, visual, language development, and hearing abilities.
Babies who do not get enough tummy time may be at risk of motor delays, beginning to crawl or walk later than other babies their age. Additionally, babies who spend too much time on their backs or seated in infant seats during their waking hours are also at risk of developing flat spots on the backs of their heads. Flattening of an infant’s head is preventable with proper tummy time.
What are the best ways to ensure my baby gets enough tummy time?
To ensure your baby gets the most benefit out of tummy time (and gets used to the different sensations early on!), it’s best to start practicing in short bursts during the first days and weeks of bringing her home. Early on, you may want to lay your baby on your chest or belly or across your lap for just a couple of minutes at a time, slowly building up longer periods of time. You can place your baby stomach down on a blanket on the floor, clear of any objects. Laying down beside your infant, singing songs to them, or shaking a rattle near can help keep them happy and encourage your little one to look or push up, engaging their muscles. My favorite way to help an infant maintain a tummy time position is to hold the infant on my forearm and place the baby’s head against my elbow and support their bum with my hand.
If you have a large exercise ball, you can lay your baby on top of the ball on their stomach (while holding the ball steady, of course!). You can roll the ball carefully from side to side or back and forth, as well, to make the activity more interesting or enjoyable for your baby. When their neck is slightly stronger, you can also lay the baby over your leg while you sit on the floor with them or try alternate arrangements around your home.
As always, be careful to supervise your baby at all times during this activity. Watch carefully for pillows or any loose clothing or blankets too close to their mouths, and use a low, safe surface.
Your baby may not enjoy tummy time at first, but the more you do it, the stronger your baby will become. And in time, your baby will love being able to explore on their own!