We’ve all heard how tummy time is so important for a baby’s development, but we also know how difficult it can be when a baby isn’t particularly keen on the practice. As a pediatric physical therapist, I am always recommending tummy time for new babies. We spend a lot of time educating caregivers on why tummy time is important while also recommending new and creative ideas to make it more feasible to implement into daily routines.
Tummy time is important for a variety of reasons, beginning with the most basic of strength development. The muscles that a baby uses in tummy time are important for the development of posture needed for all gross motor skills from rolling to walking. Babies must have great postural strength in order to sit, crawl, and walk, and when babies have had enough experience with tummy time, their posture in these developmental positions is fantastic! It’s the posture that we all would like for ourselves when we try to stand up tall in those recent family photos.
Tummy time is also extremely important for a round head shape. Tummy time allows babies to offload the back of their heads, and it also strengthens the muscles that insert at the base of the skull to round out the back of the head. Additionally, tummy time allows for babies to discover new surfaces (think different blanket textures, floor surfaces, grass, etc.) and develop the depth perception needed to explore their worlds. Despite all the reasons that support the importance of tummy time, it still doesn’t make it any easier when a baby doesn’t enjoy it. The following are four tips to try to make tummy time easier for you and your baby:
1. Start early and often
Supervised tummy time can begin as early as day one! If a baby is introduced to tummy time from the start, he or she becomes more accustomed to it as part of a daily routine. Additionally, try tummy time often! It will help you find the times that your baby tolerates it the most, whether before/after feedings, after nap time, or whatever works for your baby. This will also allow you to sneak in a few minutes, multiple times throughout the day. Those few minutes add up quickly, and before you know it, your baby will begin to prefer tummy time.
2. A firm surface is best
Your baby will have the easiest time with tummy time when placed on a firm surface. This gives your baby a stable surface from which to extend his or her body and head. You can try on the floor with a blanket or a foam play mat. Packable cribs are great options when you need to make sure your baby is contained for safety. However, if your baby wants to be close to you instead, you can try on your chest, over your lap, or in your arms. You can try patting your baby’s bottom, gentle rocking, and singing in order to squeak out a few more seconds in tummy time.
3. Bring in the reserves
Try using mirrors, toys, faces, etc. Around 2 months of age, your baby’s vision will be more developed, and they will be able to see more of the world. At that point, you can start to use mirrors and toys to encourage your baby to look up more when in tummy time. You can use loved ones’ faces to comfort and calm your baby when he or she is fussier with tummy time. While it’s important to be on the level of your child’s face during tummy time, try to keep your distance around 12-18 inches to ensure that your child can focus on your face.
4. Alternative holds
When you are holding your child, you can try some tummy time in your arms. When your child is in your arms, you can control the incline at which your child is doing tummy time. You are able to decrease the incline to make it easier, or you can increase the incline in order to challenge your baby a bit more. When in your arms, you can rock and sway with your baby to make it more comfortable. Additionally, when holding your baby looking out into the world, you can lean your baby forward in order to strengthen all the same muscles as in tummy time.
While all of these are some tips that pediatric physical therapists offer their families, you have to find what ultimately works for you and your family. Hopefully, these tips can guide you to find ways to sneak some more tummy time into your routine. While tummy time is fantastic for overall development during awake time, it is still recommended to place your baby on his or her back for sleep. It’s additionally important to always supervise your baby when in tummy time to ensure the safety of your child.
When to ask for a physical therapy consult
If you are still finding tummy time difficult, and you feel like your baby is beginning to fall behind in gross motor development, you can ask for a PT consult from your pediatrician. A PT evaluation can also help address any flat spots that you may see on your baby’s head if tummy time is difficult for your baby to tolerate. A formal PT evaluation can assess your child’s development and recommend ways to make tummy time and other gross motor development exercises work for you and your baby.