Tummy time is a phrase that you will hear so often when dealing with infants.
Before I had J, I saw article after article talking about tummy time and I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. So, I had to do some digging.
What I found is that the benefits of tummy time make doing it an absolute must! Here’s why.
What is Tummy Time?
Tummy time rose in fame after the “Back is Best” campaign came out in 1994.
Before then, doctors were suggesting that babies sleep on their stomachs in order to prevent suffocation by spitting up. What they found though, was that the rate of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) was very high.
Once doctors started suggesting that children be put to sleep on their backs, the rate of SIDS dropped by 50%. That was a huge accomplishment considering the amount of unnecessary infant deaths there were in this country.
The one downside to babies sleeping on their backs, was the rise of plagiocephaly, or flat head syndrome. Since babies weren’t sleeping on their bellies anymore, they were essentially spending all day every day putting pressure on the back of their heads.
Babies skulls are extremely soft. The three main plates that make up the shape of the skull do not actually fuse together for months or even years (depending on the suture) after birth. (Source)
They’re separated in order to squeeze through the birth canal. (It’s a tiny hole, remember?)
These plates being separated, and the soft nature of the plates in general, make them very susceptible to malformation. This malformation happens when there is constant pressure being applied in the same spot day in and day out.
Think about it. A baby, especially a very new baby, can’t do very much. All he can do is lie where you put him.
He can’t roll, can barely move his head, and spends the majority of the time sleeping. He is also moved around from crib, to car seat, to rocker, to parents’ arms, etc. all day long.
He is lying in the same position. All. Day. Long.
Hence the development of tummy time.
Why is Tummy Time so Important?
Tummy time is essentially time that you allow (force) your baby to spend off their backs.
Not only though is tummy time good for his head shape, but it is also great for muscle development.
Tummy time teaches your infant how to lift his body off the ground, how to reach for things, and how to be comfortable in positions other than on his back.
All of this will pave the way for your little one learning how to roll, sit, crawl, and eventually walk. It also helps build muscles in his neck and back, as well as promote cross-body coordination.
When Should You Start Tummy Time?
You can start introducing tummy time to your baby as soon as you get home from the hospital.
While most people talk about doing tummy time on a mat on the floor, tummy time can also be done with your baby lying on your chest or stomach.
You can even go one step further and have this time be skin-to-skin as well. Not only will your little one be getting the benefits of tummy time, but he will also be getting the added benefit of bonding with you (or dad).
Major Benefits of Tummy Time
The benefits of tummy time are nearly endless, but here are some of the biggest ones.
Tummy time forces your baby to use the muscles that he doesn’t use very often.
Muscles such as his core, back, shoulders, neck and arms are not engaged when he is sitting or lying down in some sort of baby gear like a car seat or a rocker.
Even as a newborn, lying on his stomach will entice your baby to lift his head and look around. Those slight movements will pave way for further movement and development. Everyone has to start somewhere.
This goes hand-in-hand with strengthening muscles.
Tummy time is essentially your baby’s day at the gym. He is working his muscles, gaining flexibility, and building up his endurance. He will need all of these things for his future endeavors.
The more time he spends engaging these muscles, the stronger they become and the more endurance he gains. All of this will be vital down the road.
We talked previously about the rise in flat head syndrome once parents were told to put their babies to sleep on their backs. Tummy time prevents this.
Even just a few minutes several times a day can make a huge difference in the way that a baby’s head will form.
If plagiocephaly does set it, depending on the severity, you are most likely looking at a helmet for your baby to fix it.
Doing the tummy time first is a much easier and more cost-effective method to eliminate that need.
Helps Baby Start Moving
Your baby wants to move. Especially if he is anything like my kid. My kid hated to sit still. He didn’t even like being in the same room for too long. He still doesn’t to be honest.
Tummy time can help your baby start moving.
Since your baby is working on all of those extra muscles, he is strengthening his body which will pave the way for him to start rolling over, sitting up, crawling, and eventually walking.
Tummy time helps with ALL of those things.
Having different toys, pictures, and objects around your baby during tummy time is a great way to entice your baby to start playing. Playing is how babies learn about the world around them. You want them to get interested in things to help start that process.
The desire to play with toys will take time, but you can help speed that up by having objects that your baby may want to play with nearby during tummy time.
Develops Gross Motor Skills
As your baby is building his muscles and endurance, he is developing the necessary building blocks for his gross motor development.
Gross motor skills are the larger movements that your baby will eventually get to. Things like sitting, crawling, and walking are all gross motor skills.
Tummy time is an excellent way to jump start that development.
Enhances Cognitive Development
Being on his stomach forces your baby to see things from another perspective as well as to see different things in general.
He will be able to touch different things, follow new sounds, and all of this helps to build his cognitive function.
Being forced to see things from a different perspective and a different angle is great for your baby’s vision.
Though his vision is very limited in the beginning, learning to focus on different objects or even your face during tummy time helps his brain to figure out what he’s seeing.
Tummy time is also great for your baby’s vision if you allow your baby to try tracking objects around their field of vision.
This strengthens the muscles in your baby’s eye sockets as well as helps him to focus on what he is seeing.
Being able to truly track an object will take time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start trying early.
Gets Rid of Torticollis
Torticollis, or twisted neck, can happen due to poor positioning in the womb or even from a difficult delivery. (Source)
If your baby has any sort of neck tilt, then tummy time can help to rectify this.
Torticollis can be remedied by neck strengthening exercises. This makes tummy time a perfect example.
The development of your baby’s hand-eye coordination is a HUGE benefit of tummy time.
Reaching for toys, maneuvering his body, and tracking objects are all great exercises to help your baby’s coordination.
How to do Tummy Time
The thing to remember is to start slow, but be consistent. You should begin doing tummy time as soon as you can for just a few minutes at a time.
Some babies like being on their bellies, while others absolutely hate it, so start slow.
Place your baby on his belly for just a minute or two at a time a few times a day. As your baby gets used to the position you can increase the time.
Don’t worry about hurting him or his umbilical cord stump. He will be curled up for a while after birth. Eventually he will be able to stretch his legs out and lie flat. By that point, his stump will most likely have fallen off already.
You can always help your baby learn stretch out by gently helping him to move his arms and legs. He just spent 9 months cramped up in a tiny ball. He could use a little help uncurling.
My guy always seemed to like it when I would stretch out his legs for him. He took a while on the arms though.
The best way to remain consistent, is to make tummy time part of your routine. Babies thrive on routines. They feel more secure when they know exactly what is going to happen.
For instance, J and I would get up, he would eat, do some tummy time, we would read, and then he would be ready for a nap.
Then we would repeat the whole process. Once he got older, tummy time would also involve some more play time as well. Either way, it helped knowing when to do it.
What if Your Baby Doesn’t Like Tummy Time?
If your baby doesn’t like to be on his stomach, then definitely don’t force him. You don’t want to create a bad association with tummy time.
Try getting your baby to lie on his stomach in different ways.
You can do this on your chest, with your baby lying on your forearm, or even something as simple as moving to a different room. You never know what about tummy time your kiddo doesn’t like until you try a few things.
Just don’t give up. Just because your baby doesn’t like it now doesn’t mean that he won’t like it later. Just be consistent.
How to Make Tummy Time Exciting
Tummy time is a great time to add in new games and toys to the mix.
Though your baby won’t really be interested in toys until about 3-4 months, he will still enjoy looking at them, or pictures, or even just your face.
Just move the object (or yourself) around his field of vision and get him to lift his head and follow.
He will eventually start getting interested enough to try reaching for things. He won’t do that though if there isn’t anything fun to reach for.
Give him the opportunity to explore new things, even if it is only with his eyes. Everything he is doing is helping him to learn. Be a part of his learning.
Extra Tips for Success
J loves being on his belly. He was always very relaxed during tummy time, even in the beginning.
He was so relaxed that he wouldn’t actually do anything. I had to really work with him to get him to be involved and make some effort.
Our pediatrician told us that it is okay to let him get a little fussy during tummy time. When he is frustrated, he will actually lifting his head and start moving around. Just stop when he starts actually crying.
One thing I would also suggest is to always keep a towel or an easy to clean blanket under him during tummy time.
No matter what I did or how long it had been since his feeding, J would ALWAYS spit up when he was on his belly. He did that for the first 3 months or so.
Being able to just throw the blanket in the wash (with the million other baby things) was just so much easier than trying to clean the carpet or the bedding.
Pro tip: When doing tummy time, take the opportunity to show your little one how to roll over. I would always place J down on his back, and slowly move his leg across his body to show him how to roll.
Just make sure that you alternate sides. I apparently didn’t do that very well and now he’ll only roll one direction. Whoops!
He picked it up very quickly though and was rolling both directions by 4 months.
Have you tried tummy time yet? How did it go? Leave me a comment below or join the conversation in our Facebook group.
Until next time!