With all the emphasis to put the baby on the back the position, it may be easy for parents to forget or even hear about tummy time. When the baby sleeps, they spend a lot of time with the head in one position, which can result to a flat pressure spot on the back of the head- a condition referred to as positional plagiocephaly. Babies are born with soft heads to allow brain growth, which mainly takes place in the first year of life. As a result, it is very easy for the skull bones to be easily molded in case of excessive pressure. The tummy position helps relieve pressure off the back of the head by allowing full range of motion. It is therefore vital for you to mix up the positions.
Table of Contents
- What is Newborn Tummy Time and Why Does the Baby Need It?
- When Should Tummy Time Start?
- How is It Done?
- How to Variate Tummy Time Positions
- What if the Baby is Not Happy about Tummy Time?
- Developmental Progress
- When to Transition Out of Tummy Time
- Tummy Time Safety Concerns
- When Should You Be Concerned?
- Accessories to Make Tummy Time Exciting
- Top Tips to Make Tummy Time Interesting and Fun
What is Newborn Tummy Time and Why Does the Baby Need It?
Just like the name suggests, tummy is just that- the baby on their stomach. It happens when you let the baby lie on the abdomen with the weight on the forearms. It is beneficial in helping the infants develop their motor skills to support the head, neck and upper body. The baby will also use this position to roll over, crawl, sit and ultimately walk.
Other than motor development, it also helps the newborn to explore the environment in a new way. When lying on the back, they only see the ceiling and what is directly around them. On the stomach, they can visualize the world at a whole different level. Not to forget that it also helps the two of you to bond.
You will be amazed at the leaps of development that the baby will exhibit in their first year of life.
When Should Tummy Time Start?
There is no prescription as to when you should start tummy time. Some parents start as soon after birth while others choose to wait until the baby has enough strength to lift the head. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that you should start tummy time the day you arrive home from the hospital. The sooner you begin, the easier it will be for the baby to adapt. Do not worry about the umbilical cord, as this position is absolutely safe and does not in any way interfere with the healing process.
How is It Done?
Tummy time should be done when the baby is fully awake, alert, and you can supervise them. To get started, place the baby on a flat solid surface like the floor. Begin with the baby lying in the supine (back) position, then slowly roll the baby to the side lying position. You can spend a little bit of face-to-face time here, especially if the baby is not yet comfortable with tummy time.
Then move to the prone position, with the belly down, face and cheek down, stomach, legs, and arms touching the surface. The hands should be near the shoulders and knees under the hips. The baby will then bear their weight with the arms, try to lift the head against gravity, make pushing motions with the feet and turn the head to survey the surrounding.
You can then place a toy or engage them in an activity. When starting, do it for 1 to 2 minutes for 2 to 3 times daily, then build up to 10-15 minutes several times in a day and finally 20 to 30 minutes when the baby is about to celebrate the seventh month after birth.
When you are satisfied that the baby has had enough time in the tummy position, you can directly pick them up or slowly roll them to the back position. Do not forget to give some encouragement by hugging, holding the baby close to your heartbeat, a forehead kiss or deep eye contact coupled with smiling.
As babies get more used to it, they start moving from side to side. Make sure that the area is clear of any obstructions like tables. At this stage, they will be learning coordination, posture control, and balance. To enhance these new skills, get toys that can move, or you, can move to a different area of the room and see whether they will follow you.
For a newborn, you may want to start off on your lap, on a rolled-up towel. Remember to support the head and keep it aligned with the body. To keep the baby distracted from the initial discomfort, keep them engaged in captivating activities. You can stroke their back or lift your legs side to side in a rocking motion.
An excellent time for tummy time is either after a diaper change, a bath or when the baby wakes up from a nap. This is when they are active, refreshed and energized. Do not do it immediately after feeding, but wait for at least an hour. It is not only uncomfortable when the stomach is full, but there is also a risk for infant acid reflux.
If the baby sleeps during tummy time, transfer them to their bed on their back-sleeping position- remember ‘back to sleep, tummy to play.’
How to Variate Tummy Time Positions
When the baby achieves full head control, you can vary the positions using an exercise ball, traveling tummy time or airplane tummy positions. For the exercise ball, place the baby on the ball with the tummy down. Make sure that you have a firm grip on the baby, then change positions by slowly rolling the ball back and forth.
For the airplane tummy time position, lie down with a pillow supporting your head and chest, flex your legs at the knees, then let the baby’s tummy rest on your legs, just below the knees and above the ankle joints. You can play a little by rocking your legs back and forth. Use your hands to support the back if the child is less than three months. If older, play with their hands as you rock your legs.
What if the Baby is Not Happy about Tummy Time?
It may not be easy for the baby to get used to the tummy position, and they may throw tantrums or cry endlessly. The position is physically uncomfortable mainly because it is an unfamiliar position that they are not used to (in the womb, they were used to the curled up fetal position). Furthermore, it is hard work for the baby to maintain the position and lift the head up. Do not give up; eventually, the baby will get used to it.
If the baby gets quite fussy, consider the side lying position. Put them on the side, then support the back and head with a rolled blanket. Let the hand the hands and legs stay in front, for the baby to make movements and play easily. However, this position will not give enough training like the tummy position. Thus, keep on alternating the positions until the baby is comfortable.
As time goes, you will see that the baby will continually keep on mastering different skills. For the first two weeks, the baby will basically be supporting their weight, making short turns with the head and trying to make pushing motions with the feet. At this time, the baby will generally be trying to stretch out the uterine position.
Between one and two months, the baby will be able to briefly lift the head, begin to straighten the arms and legs to get off the surface slightly. The baby will also start mastering coordination of the two sides as the neck muscles get stronger. If you notice that the baby is only turning to one side of the body, discuss it with your doctor. It could be an indication of torticollis, a condition in which there is weakness or tightness of muscles on one side of the neck.
At three months, the infant can hold the head without bobbing, can turn to both sides with the head lifted, and lifts the chests from the surface. The baby can also comfortably raise the head to follow your voice or movements. At four months, they can hold the head steadily, keep the chest lifted and raise both arms and legs off the surface. At five months the baby shows signs of reaching out to an object and can intentionally roll from the tummy position. At this stage, keep a keen eye as they can easily change to an unsafe position.
Within six to seven months, they can easily reach out for an object with one hand and begin to push backward with the belly and arms. By then, the muscles will have gained strength to push up, crawl and with some help, can pull up to a standing position.
At eight months, the baby may start pulling to the all-fours position. They may also be able to get to a kneeling position, to free the hands for some play. Between the ninth and tenth month, the baby will constantly be on the move. By the time you celebrate their first birthday, they will have gained full trunk control.
Note that these are not hard and fast rules of developmental milestones. Your baby may take less or more time to master the above highlighted abilities and so, there should be no cause for alarm due to slight deviations. However, if you note that the baby is taking too long and your parental instincts tell you otherwise, it would be prudent to seek a second opinion from a professional healthcare provider.
When to Transition Out of Tummy Time
At some point, the baby will have mastered the tummy position and muscle strength so well that you will need to transition out of it, to other more complex things. You may wean it off as from seven months, by allowing the baby to play while on the tummy for some time, as you teach other skills.
You may consider prolonging tummy in the following situations
- If your baby has torticollis and the neck muscles have not yet strengthened
- If the baby is not yet able to lift the chest off the floor
- If they cannot hold the head up steadily
- If the baby is resistant to bearing their weight with both the arms and legs
Tummy Time Safety Concerns
Every time that you or anyone else is handling the baby, the safety of your cutie is a top priority. Ensure that whatever surface, position, and toys you choose does not pose any danger.
Here are key things that you should put in check.
- Choose a low solid surface. The floor is always preferable.
- The surface should be flat and firm. Avoid heavily padded furniture or beanbags
- Only do it if the baby is fully awake
- If you are doing it on a high surface like a changing table, ensure that you hold on to the baby so that they do not roll off.
- Clear the tummy time area and always keep it clean
- Never leave the infant unsupervised
- Do not let the baby fall asleep while in the tummy position as it increases the risk of suffocation and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
When Should You Be Concerned?
Consider calling your pediatrician if you notice any of the following signs during tummy time;
- If the baby remains continuously fussy during tummy time
- The baby arches the back consistently
- Difficulty in turning the head and neck from side to side
- If the baby is not able to touch the face or mouth with either one or both hands
Accessories to Make Tummy Time Exciting
Things only get exciting for babies if you get them going with things they are not used to. The child will have fun if you give them things that keep them busy, are mind provoking, and not monotonous. You will need to create a perfect environment to keep them excited throughout tummy time.
Here are some ideas that you can implement.
1. Tummy Time Mat
A tummy mat is essential, especially if you will be using the floor. There are different types- some are simple mats while others are more advanced with toys attached to them. The mats are designed with different textures, colors, and designs. The most important things to consider when getting a mat include
- It should be firm and stable
- The fabric should not be slippery on the floor
- If there are any toys attached, check the sizes to avoid risks of choking
- Choose one with contrasting colors to enhance visual development
- Look out for one that is easy to fold and portable.
- If the mat has music or voices, get one with soft sounds as opposed to sharp high-pitch sounds
- For dangling toys, ensure that they are neither out of reach nor too near to cause discomfort
2. Tummy Time Pillow
A pillow helps to add variety to positions and to give some support to the baby’s chest. It also helps the baby gain more head control by aiding proper positioning and propping. The advantage of a tummy time pillow is that it is easily portable, soft and super comfortable. Also, the baby does not outgrow a pillow- when you buy one, it will serve the baby for years. Some pillows have fun sounds, textured fabric, fun shapes, crinkly leaves, teethers and mirrors to keep the baby engaged.
3. Safe Baby Tummy Time Toys
Toys not only keep the baby excited but also help in the development of fine motor skills. They learn to grasp, shake and firmly hold onto an object. Toys with sounds, different shapes, and colors help to stimulate the visual and hearing senses. Remember when it comes to toys, if you are not careful, they may be hazardous.
To keep the infant safe, pick toys that are:
- Age appropriate
- Not heavy
- Free of magnets and toxic ingredients
- Choose toys that are bigger than the child’s mouth to eliminate the risk of choking
- Check for buttons, batteries, beads, and other small parts that may cause choking
- Avoid balloons for smaller babies
4. Tummy Time Mirrors
You can place a mirror in front of the baby, to capture attention and promote self-discovery. The mirror will also encourage the baby to hold the head up for as long as possible. You can either use your dressing mirror invest in one designed explicitly for tummy time. If you choose to get a baby-friendly mirror, select one with fascinating characters and decorations that will get the baby’s focus. It does not have to be necessarily large, but a small size that will catch attention.
5. Tummy Time Books
It’s never too early to introduce books. Tummy time books are designed to encourage the baby to lift the head as they get a touch-feel experience. The books have bright, bold and colorful sections. Some have peep holes for the baby to hold and flip through or fold out.
Top Tips to Make Tummy Time Interesting and Fun
- Start early- do not be nervous about it because babies already have the reflex to lift the head and support the body.
- Take one step at a time. Do not rush it if the baby is not ready, but give short experiences as you build to extended periods.
- Select a specific spot in your house that you will use for tummy time so that you will not have to clear things out of the way daily.
- When starting, give the baby a boost by using a rolled towel or soft blanket under the armpits and on the chest for some little support.
- Time it when the baby is comfortable and energized but not when gassy, full, sleepy or tired.
- Before starting, warm the baby up by playing or cooing.
- Make it fun by using tummy time mirrors, mat, pillow, and toys. Read a book for the baby, lie on the opposite or beside the baby, talk, sing, clap, make silly faces or flip a book together. It will help the baby develop other skills like vision, grasping and attention.
- Make it a bonding time- babies crave emotional connection. So, enjoy the special moment by getting to their level on the floor and getting actively involved.
- Involve other family members like the dad, grandpa and ma, elder siblings or friends.
- When the baby learns tummy time positions, do not hand the toy to them. Instead, place it out of reach for them to try to reach it. You can also use moving pictures and toys for the baby to follow.
- Place several toys around the baby. Trying to reach the toys in different positions will help to develop muscle strength for various movements.
- Add variety by lying on your back then place the baby on the tummy position, on your chest and then talk. It will further help strengthen the neck muscles as the baby tries to lift the head to see your face.
- You can also lie on your back and place the baby on the top of your soft belly part to achieve a ‘belly to belly’ tummy time position. Place a pillow under your head, neck, and shoulder to have a slightly elevated position to have eye contact easily. Then talk softly to the baby. This is one sure way of bonding during tummy time.
- Dress the baby in a body suit and take off the socks to allow them to have a tactile experience with the surface and have proper traction on the mat, floor or the surface that you choose to use.
- When the baby gets used to the position and becomes strong enough, they will start crawling around. Clear the room by removing dangerous items on the way and make sure that you supervise them. It may be so tempting to attend to other chores in a different room, but remember at this stage, they cannot recognize dangers. The baby can also change to an unsafe position. If you must do something else, have someone else watch the child.
- If the floor is too slippery or cold, make the baby comfortably by using a soft blanket, tummy time padded mat or foam. Choose brightly colored ones with exciting prints and pictures.
- Mix it up; it does not have to be always on the floor.
- Stimulate the baby’s senses by using brightly colored toys, stuffed animals or shaking rattles.
- Be sure to instruct other caretakers on the importance of tummy time and how to do it correctly.