Is tummy time important?
Back when we were babies (I’m showing my age here! ha ha) we usually slept on our tummies. That was before the launch of the Back to Sleep campaign in the early 90’s which raised awareness of safe sleeping habits and the importance of putting babies to sleep on their backs.
However, sleeping on our fronts gave us the opportunity to strengthen the muscles to lift our heads and shoulders. It also meant babies were used to being on their tummies. In addition to sleeping on their backs, many babies also spend a lot of time in car seats, bouncy chairs and buggies resulting in babies spending longer on their backs and much less time on their tummies. Simply put, this means they have less time to work on strengthening certain muscles.
Therefore, the concept of tummy time was introduced to ensure that during baby’s waking time, they spend time laying on their tummy to ensure the structural health and fitness of their body.
Tummy time has many benefits, in brief, it:
- prevents baby flat-head, or deformed skull (positional plagiocephaly)
- helps your baby develop head control
- strengthens the upper body, including back, neck, shoulders, arms and hands
- helps the development of gross motor skills like crawling, sitting and rolling
- helps the development of fine motor skills
- promotes sensory development by changing the environment and how your baby sees the world around her.
Tummy time can start immediately after birth. Start with just a few minutes a day and work up to an hour a day by the time they are 3 months. This should be done by giving them the opportunity several times a day rather than all in one go.
Tummy time isn’t just achieved by placing baby down on their tummy on a play mat, in fact, most parents will naturally start doing tummy time through lying back and placing baby tummy down on their own tummy or chest. This position creates the first step in helping a baby learn to be comfortable in prone. Also, holding baby up on your shoulder while being burped or carried helps them to develop head control and upper body strength in a safe and enjoyable position. The higher up on your shoulder you hold the baby, the more strength baby will require to keep their head up and steady (always make sure their head is supported while they don’t have the strength to do it themselves).
You can also lay baby on their tummy across your lap. By slightly raising the leg that their upper body is on will be more comfortable for them. Support their bum with one hand and, again, always ensure their neck is supported.
Another great way to provide tummy time is known as the ‘Tiger in the tree’ hold. This is also great if baby is suffering with colic or tummy discomfort. Support your baby by lying him, face down, along one of your arms, with his head by your elbow. Your arm should support his weight, while your hand is holding the top of a leg firmly. Rest your free hand on their back for extra support.
Once baby has started to gain a bit of control and is happy on their tummy, you can try laying them on their tummy on the floor. It may be more comfortable for them if you place their chest on a rolled towel (see photo above), with their arms over the towel. Then lie down on the floor facing them and encourage them to lift their head to look at you. You can also position toys all around baby within their field of view to encourage them to turn head in both directions.
Once your baby can lift their head and push up onto her forearms, you can try using mirrors and toys around your baby to encourage weight shifting and reaching. You can also play peek-a-boo while you and your baby are both on your tummies facing one another.
For more information, check out tips from the babycentre.co.uk.