Tummy time is any time a baby spends on its tummy on a firm surface. It is the single most important position for infants. I'll say it again. Tummy time is the single most important position for infants, starting as early as a few days of age! Don't forget that part. First the WHY. Tummy time is important because it....
- Stretches muscles across the abdomen and neck that were scrunched during the last few weeks of development.
- Strengthens anti-gravity muscles or muscles that help a baby lift its body off the ground. Each part of baby development builds on the next. First, a baby can only lift its head - and it's not very controlled. As they practice and grow stronger, their head control improves and they strengthen their arms and shoulders as they push even more. Then they shift their weight and eventually push all the way onto hands and knees, which builds abdominal and hip strength. Eventually they transition between positions and learn to walk. It's exactly like your workout. How can you expect to develop that six-pack without doing any abdominal work? How can a baby develop all the muscles used to move and explore if it doesn't do the position that initially strengthens those muscles (that position is tummy time, in case you forgot)?
- Builds visual strength and hand eye coordination as the baby gazes forward and pushes off the floor at the same time.
- Facilitates a round skull. Babies who spend more time flat on their backs are more likely to have flattened areas of the skull.
- Helps develop tiny hand muscles that are important later for picking up small objects and writing.
- Aids in digestion and respiration.
Now the WHEN part. When should I put my baby on her tummy? The Safe to Sleep (formerly known as the Back to Sleep campaign) started in 1994 as a way to bring public attention to SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and to educate caregivers on ways to reduce SIDS risk. Since the program was implemented, 50% fewer babies have died from SIDS. Babies should sleep on their backs on a firm surface without pillows, blankets or soft toys. But during their awake hours it's the responsibility of the parent (that's you) to get your baby playing on it's tummy. I've taken courses that suggest babies spend 80% of their waking hours on their tummies! 80%! Remember - on back to sleep, but on tummy to play.
Finally, the how. If your baby cries after five seconds, HOW do you get them to enjoy tummy time? Don't expect your baby to enjoy tummy time immediately. It takes time and persistence.
- Start early. Like in the hospital. Put your baby on your chest or stomach and recline your body.
- Start gradually and choose times when your baby is fresh and happy. Try it immediately after a nap or bath time. Your baby may initially only tolerate 15 seconds. Don't give up and add more time until you reach one minute. If your baby can tolerate one minute, try to add another minute every day. Remember, babies who spend more time on their tummies are more likely to move, explore and meet their milestones on time or even early. It's worth it.
- Make it fun. Hang toys overhead, use a mirror or lay directly in front of your baby.
- Always be present. Never leave you baby unattended.
Good luck. You can do it!