Hopefully we’ve all heard of tummy time. We are reminded of doing it by health professionals regularly, as it has so many benefits for your baby.
But what exactly are those benefits? How often are you supposed to do it? And what if my baby absolutely hates tummy time?
What are the benefits of tummy time?
- Neck strengthening - babies are born without the ability to hold their own head up. By participating in tummy time, it allows those muscles to become stronger.
- It has an on-going effect on a child’s development. From being able to roll over, crawl, sit up and to hold objects, and to help with cognitive functioning as well. It stabilizes and strengthens the neck, core, arms and legs.
- Helps with the cross lateral movement and ongoing support of both hemispheres of the brain working together. (Click here to read an article on cross lateral movement)
- Babies are born with a reflex called the tonic neck reflex. This is where a baby is able to move their head from side to side and move their arms in coordination as well (asymmetrical - ATNR). It is believed that babies have this reflex to support hand eye coordination. By engaging in tummy time, especially where you can help the child lift their head and turn it from side to side, will help strengthen this reflex if they have a weaker side. This can help
- Tummy time encourages a baby to point, reach and pivot, again strengthening and enhancing their physical development.
But what if my baby hates tummy time?
When I picture a newborn doing tummy time, I often see these tiny, frail babies, lying on a play mat, struggling to lift their heads. Most of the time they are unhappy, face planting and struggling in this position.
So how can we encourage tummy time in a way that supports the development of your baby, so that they can reap the benefits of it, without leaving them distressed and unhappy?
There are actually 4 different tummy time positions you can try
The Skin to Skin Tummy Lay
Sit in a comfortable position, and slightly lean back so that your back is at a 45 degree angle. Make sure that you support your back with cushions and that you are comfortable. Rest your baby so that their tummy is lying on your chest.
This is a great first tummy time position to introduce as the baby is comfortable and supported. It is best to do this while your baby is just wearing a nappy and your chest is bare (add a blanket across your baby’s back if they are cold). This supports bonding and attachment and also will help with breastfeeding too. The baby will be listening to his mother’s heartbeat and will be able to find his way down to the nipple through smell and sight when they wish.
The Cross Knee Lie Down
Sit on a comfortable chair with your legs out at a 90 degree angle, with your feet flat on the floor. Slightly elevate one leg so that the knee is slightly higher than the other knee. Now you can rest your baby across your legs on their tummy, with their head on the elevated leg.
I would suggest placing a muslin underneath your baby to catch any dribble or spit up. And if you are struggling to wind your baby, this can be a good way of allowing them to stretch out their oesophagus and you can provide a gentle back rub at the same time.
The Tummy Down Carry
This is my favourite! - Using your forearm, lie your baby across it with their head facing towards your elbow, and their feet straddle either side. Your hand should have a grip on your baby around their thigh and you can use your core to pull the baby towards you for extra support.
This is another great pose for winding, as well as when you are moving around the house. I tend to use my weaker arm, so I then have my strong hand free to be able to open doors, grab a toy or a bottle etc.
Tummy Time Mat Play
Once your baby is happy being placed in these other tummy time positions, then try placing them on a play mat in the tummy time position. Have their arms slightly out in front of them, elbows bent, and use a rolled up blanket or tummy time cushion for support. You can place toys in front of them, or use your voice to encourage them to lift their head and turn it from side to side.
Now that you know the techniques to use, how often should you be doing them and when?
It’s best to start with tummy time when the umbilical cord has fallen off and the belly button has healed (so around 2 weeks of age).
Although do start the skin to skin tummy lay (1) from day 1! Start with short bursts of 30 seconds to 1 minute, continuing to extend the time. You want to aim for around an hour of tummy time, in a number of bursts throughout the day, by the time your baby is 3 months old.
Remembering to include tummy time in your daily routine can be tricky, so try and make it the same time every day, so that you and your baby can get used to doing it regularly.
Some great tips:
Make it part of your nappy changing routine. After changing your baby’s nappy, turn them over onto their tummy for a minute or so.
Do it during play time on the mat, include lots of things that will encourage them to lift their head. Baby’s will respond to their mother’s voice and to toys that make a noise. Use black and white toys with splashes of primary colours in.
After feeds is a great time to try 2 and 3 to help with winding
As your child gets older and they can lift their head by themselves, you’ll start to see further physical movements where they try to reach out for objects. Start including sensory play to help support them, and think about the objects around them, as they will soon be rolling over!
Every baby will have different preferences as to which type of tummy time they prefer