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.

tummy time

Tummy time: what, why, and how

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. 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; but he is lying in the same position. All. Day. Long.

Hence the development of tummy time.

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.

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.

Tips For Tummy Time 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 even told us that it is okay to let him get a little fussy during tummy time. When he is frustrated he will begin lifting his head and 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.

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.

Have you tried tummy time yet? How did it go? Leave me a comment or send me an email. I’d love to hear about it.

Until next time!

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