If you are about to bring your newborn home, or have just done so, your doctor may have explained the importance of placing your little one down on his back to sleep. It’s equally important to ensure that your baby has supervised time lying on his stomach while he is awake. This, in fact, is what tummy time for baby is, according to Dr. Wendy Wallace, a paediatrician at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Care Network.
Tummy time for baby: Why is tummy time important?
Adequate and regular tummy time helps your baby strengthen his neck muscles and upper body, which will, in turn, assist him in reaching important physical milestones such as sitting, crawling and walking in the later months, says rehabilitation trainer Mr Poh Ying Bing.
It’s also very likely that he will hit these physical milestones earlier than babies who don’t spend any time, or little time on their tummies, as suggested by research.
Also, if your baby is always on his back, he may get a flat spot on his head (positional plagiocephaly). This is because an infant’s skull is still soft and is made up of several ‘movable’ plates, explains Dr. Jay Hoeker of Mayo Clinic.
So, if your baby’s head remains in the same position for a long time, then these plates may move and mould together in a way that causes a flat spot.
While this is mostly a cosmetic issue which will eventually go away, the medical experts at WebMD point out that this also means your baby’s head, neck and shoulder muscles aren’t getting adequate exercise.
Another reason tummy time is important is that when your baby is on his belly, he has to look up and to the left and right to see what’s going on around him. This is very good for his eye muscles.
When should you start tummy time for baby?
Dr Wendy Sinnathamby, a specialist in paediatrics and consultant at Raffles Children’s Centre, says you can start tummy time for baby when he is around six weeks old — ensuring all the while that you watch him very closely.
However, paediatric bodies such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggest you can start tummy time for your baby from the day you bring him home.
Either way, it’s best to check with your baby’s paediatrician about the best age for your little one to start tummy time.
Getting started: Tummy time for baby
Choose a time when your baby is alert and awake. A good time is after a nap or diaper change. Its best to avoid tummy time immediately after a feed, as this may make him feel very uncomfortable.
Keep it simple. Place a mat or clean blanket on the floor and place your baby on his stomach on it. Start with sessions that are just 3-5 minutes long, two to three times a day.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you should aim to get at least 20 minutes of tummy time a day for your baby by the time he is three to four months old.
As you start tummy time, you may notice your baby’s head landing in an awkward ‘face-plant’ position more often than not. Don’t worry about this — but be alert as to when this happens so you can quickly encourage him to raise his head.
If he starts to cry after a minute or so, try to encourage him to stay on his tummy for just a few seconds longer by talking and singing to him, or interacting with him in other ways (we describe these on the next page).
But if you feel he’s really had enough, carry him and try again later.
What should you do when your baby dislikes tummy time?
It’s very common for little ones to dislike tummy time immensely at the beginning. But even a few minutes of tummy time initially are better than nothing at all, and will give your little tot the opportunity to strengthen and develop those muscles.
If tummy time is more torture than fun, though, give these tips and tricks a try:
- Change locations and the view he gets while on his tummy: Try your bedroom in the morning and your living room in the evening. And if you seem to be placing him down with his head pointing in the same direction, turn him the other way so he gets a different ‘view’ of his surroundings.
- Do tummy time together: Lie down next to your sweet baby on your own tummy — either facing him or side-by-side, and coo and smile together.
- Massage: Who doesn’t like a good back rub? While your baby is on his tummy, gently rub his back and legs. You could even try out some baby foot reflexology while you’re at it!
- A new face: Have daddy get involved in tummy time too. Even an older sibling could get down on his/her tummy (of course, while being carefully supervised) and entertain your little one while he is on his tummy.
- A ring of toys: As your baby gets older, place some toys around him in a small circle. As he reaches for the toys, he’s also working on hand-eye coordination while strengthening his muscles.
- You’re the floor: Lie on your back and place baby on your chest. Coo and sing, which will encourage your baby to try to raise his head to see your face.
- More support: Roll up a thin blanket or towel and make a bolster out of it, which you can prop under your little one’s chest, while stretching his arms forward and over the bolster. Keep his mouth, chin and nose away from the roll.
- Weave it into other baby-related activities: Place your little one on his belly as you dry him after a bath, apply lotion or burp him while placed across your lap.
Tummy time safety
Keep these safety tips in mind every time your little one has tummy time:
- Never place him on a high surface for tummy time, where he is exposed to the risk or rolling/ falling off. Stick to a low, solid surface instead. Your best option is the floor with your child placed on a mat or blanket.
- Always supervise and monitor closely. When his head drops, immediately try to encourage him to raise it. Otherwise, carry him and then try again. Never leave him with his face down on the ground, as this poses a suffocation risk.
- Never leave your baby alone with older siblings or pets.
- Ensure there are no small objects near him, especially as he grows older and more curious and starts popping things in his mouth.
- If you can see that your little one is getting drowsy, or he actually falls asleep while on his tummy, immediately turn him over on to his back for a nap. Letting a baby sleep on his tummy is strongly discouraged by paediatricians and health experts around the world, because this exposes him to the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
- If your helper, mother, mother-in-law or another carer will be helping to look after your little one, please inform them of the above safety tips, and why it’s so important to follow them carefully.
Watch this video below to learn how to practice tummy time with your newborn
We hope your found our article on tummy time useful, and that you can put our tips and tricks to use on your own baby!
Have you got any tummy time tricks of your own, that we haven’t mentioned in this article? Do share them with us in the comment box below!