What is tummy time and why is it important?
Tummy time is exactly what it sounds like, that is, any amount of time your baby spends in a prone (belly-down) position while awake and supervised.
Babies who don’t spend any time on their tummies can miss out on the important practice of lifting their heads against gravity and bearing weight with their arms—activities that strengthen the muscles of the neck, shoulders, arms, and belly. This physical development will eventually become crucial for babies to sit, roll, push up, and crawl.
Additionally, placing your baby on her belly for play will provide her with the opportunity to move from side-to-side, which can help with coordination, balance and postural control. As she gains these new motor skills and perspectives, she’ll become more confident and curious, which will encourage her to move and explore the world around her not to mention, prepare herself for crawling.
How much tummy time is recommended?
Pediatricians recommend that parents or childcare providers start by placing alert infants to play on their tummies 2-3 times a day, for 3-5 minutes each time.
In early infancy, tummy time might only last a few minutes before your baby becomes sleepy or begins to fuss. Don’t force a fussy baby to endure time on their tummy. Instead, provide her with more frequent, shorter sessions on her tummy. If your baby becomes sleepy, always place her on her back to nap.
Increase the amount of time and the frequency of tummy time as your baby shows more interest in playing belly-down. By 3-4 months, try for around 20 minutes of tummy time a day. If your baby is content and alert, allow her to stay on her tummy as long as she likes, working up to 40-60 total daily minutes.
By the time your baby has the strength and coordination to roll over (at 4-6 months), she’ll be trying out tummy time all on her own.
What if my baby hates it?
Many babies are initially resistant to the new position and perspective of being belly-down on the floor. If your baby fusses when you start tummy time on the floor, try comforting her by returning to a position on your belly or lap, reminding him that he’s safe and secure on his tummy.
Remember, more than anything, babies crave emotional connection and interaction with their parents, so be sure to help your baby along during tummy time by getting down on her level and interacting with her in a loving, stimulating way.
Avoid putting babies on their tummies if they’ve just eaten or if they are gassy or irritable.The pressure on their belly will, understandably, be uncomfortable. This is especially true for babies who have colic or acid reflux. Be especially sensitive to their unique needs. Do tummy time just after your baby wakes from a nap or directly after a diaper change. You also want to avoid at the end of the day or during the witching hour time.
10 best tips for tummy time success
1. Start early
Newborns can seem so fragile in their early days that some first-time parents feel nervous to handle them too much? But you have the amazing opportunity to introduce your newborn to the wonders of her new life on land by giving them belly-to-belly tummy time with you in their first days of life.
2. Make tummy time a bonding time
Especially while your baby is having tummy time on your body, sing to her, talk to her, make eye contact and enjoy this special moment of growing and learning together. She’ll love smelling your skin and the warmth of your body on hers. When she moves to the floor for tummy time, go with her.
3. It’s for the whole family
Partners, dads, siblings, and grandparents can participate in the bonding, too by placing baby on their bodies or lying down on the floor while baby has tummy time there.
4. Get on her level
Babies will be more interested in floor time on their tummies if their loved-ones are nearby. Your baby will naturally look for your face and turn her head toward the sound of your voice, thus encouraging her to build strength.
5. Introduce texture
Textured mats, sheepskin rugs, or soft blankets will provide interesting tactile stimulation, something babies crave.
6. Stimulate your baby’s senses
In addition to stimulating her sense of touch, engage your baby with colorful mats and toys, as well as by singing and talking to her throughout play.
7. Take it slow
If your baby doesn’t like staying on her tummy for an extended time, give her very short experiences that introduce her to the activity. Build slowly from there.
8. Timing is everything
Remember that lying belly-down with a gassy or full tummy would be uncomfortable for anyone. And if your baby is already sleepy or fussy, it’s best to hold off on tummy time until she’s rested. Try it just after a nap or a diaper change, and avoid classically fussy times of day. (Looking at you, witching hour.)
9. Consider side-lying
An alternative to tummy time (if your baby doesn’t tolerate being on her stomach) is placing your baby on a blanket on her side. Support her back with a rolled towel and her head (if needed) with a folded washcloth. Allow her arms and legs to be in front of her, and play with her in this position. While side lying may not give the same kind of strength training as belly-down play, it allows for important position changes and supports development and motor skills in other ways.
10. Don’t stress it
You may be doing everything right, but your baby just doesn’t like being placed on her tummy. That’s okay, too. Babies who refuse tummy time still grow to sit up, crawl, and walk like their peers.
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