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Tummy Time: Tips & Tricks

Despite its adorable name, "tummy time" is not a favorable activity for most newborns—at least not first.

Tummy Time is an important activity for babies. It gives them a new perspective on the world and sets the stage for the critical motor skills they will develop during their first year of life. I'm here to explain why this exercise is so vital and offer some tips to make tummy time a little less intimidating!

What is "tummy time?"

Tummy time is an important milestone in an infant's life. Babies benefit greatly from it as their neck and spine muscles grow and become stronger. These muscles will eventually support them as they reach other developmental milestones in their first year of life. During tummy time, babies are placed on their stomachs for short periods while they are awake. It's a crucial method for helping infants develop better motor skills. 

Your child will benefit from spending some time each day on their belly while they are awake (and under supervision) as this will help them build strong neck and shoulder muscles, which will eventually help them roll, scoot, and crawl. Their neck curve, or cervical curve, is established in part by tummy time. The lumbar, thoracic, and cervical curves are the three that make up an adult's spine. The first-year developmental milestones aid in the formation of these curves and set the stage for the baby to eventually be able to sit and walk on two feet.

Why should my baby do tummy time?

Given that the AAP recommends that infants are placed to sleep on their backs, this makes tummy time even more important for preventing flat spots on the head. When a newborn spends too much time in one position—such as on their back or in a car seat—their head begins to flatten in particular areas. This condition is known as plagiocephaly or flat patches on the head. The best way to avoid flat spots in babies is to give them space to roll around and explore, as this promotes healthy muscular development in the neck and trunk. Whatever method you choose to spend tummy time with your child, make sure it's safe and enjoyable!

When it comes to tummy time, babies should constantly be supervised. Consult your baby's healthcare practitioner about tummy time if your child was born preterm or has special needs. They may have specific advice to provide you. And remember—while tummy time is important during playtime, your little one should always be put to sleep on their back at nighttime and nap time.

When should I start doing tummy time with my infant?

Tummy time can begin as soon as your baby is born! Typically in the first few weeks, this exercise is performed on the parent's chest or in their arms. When both parents and baby are ready, or when the baby loses their umbilical cord stump, they can then begin performing tummy time on a flat surface. It's important to wait until the umbilical cord stump falls off first to give the infant the most joyful tummy time possible–otherwise it may be a little uncomfortable for them to lie on their belly. You can also set up a blanket on the ground with lots of toys to help keep the baby interested.

How can I make tummy time more enjoyable for my little one?

I usually advise my patients to roll their infant in and out of tummy time. This may help the infant enjoy tummy time more by assisting their vestibular system, which is their feeling of position and balance. Remember that quality over quantity is the best course of action when it comes to tummy time, so if your baby enjoys a few blissful minutes each day, it's better than them sobbing for hours... Start with five minutes a day and work your way up from there!

During the first month or two, high-contrast black-and-white toys and books are excellent for a baby's growth since they are simple for them to see. Better yet, consider having tummy time on an elevated surface such as the diaper changing table, while still standing clearly and close to them. This brings the infant closer to your eye level, which may make tummy time more enjoyable for them!

What can I do if my baby hates tummy time?

To make tummy time enjoyable, in my opinion, it could be beneficial to experiment with various surfaces, toys, and positions to find what works best for them. Until they feel comfortable lying flat on the ground, your baby might like to lie on a Boppy or another type of pillow to relieve some of the pressure on their neck. Some newborns don't like being on their tummies and they may cry, whimper, or grunt to express this distaste. Don't let that stop you from introducing tummy time into your baby's daily routine.

You could also try putting your baby on their side for a while if they just won't tolerate being on their stomach at this point. You can place a rolled-up towel over their back to support it; if necessary, place a tiny towel or blanket below their head. Lean their legs forward at the hips, bending their knees, while maintaining the baby's arms in front of them. They can feel more at ease in postures other than on their back (or in their arms) and start using some of the same muscles in this position.

Make sure to tell them how wonderful they are doing by showing them lots of smiles and support! There are moments when having you around can make any activity the greatest thing ever.

Here are some tips to help everyone enjoy tummy time:

  • Place safe objects and toys close to your baby: move them from side to side in front of your baby’s face as this encourages your baby to move, lift, and turn their head.

  • Get down on the floor next to or in front of your baby: turn pages in picture books or magazines since this develops your baby’s eye strength and keeps them interested.

  • Try tummy time in different places: like outdoors on a blanket, or put a non-breakable mirror next to your baby so they can see their reflection for a fun activity!

  • Let your baby know you’re there: talk and sing to them, stroke their back or tickle their hands so they feel more at ease during this exercise.

In Conlusion

Tummy time can be difficult for newborns at first. However, it is an important aspect of their development. If your infant dislikes tummy time, experiment with different activities. Sing songs, keep colorful toys nearby, get down on the floor with your baby, and invite others to join in. Don't give up! Tummy time is crucial, and some babies simply require a little more time to adjust.

As pediatric chiropractors, we have numerous tips and strategies to help your infant with tummy time. We can also evaluate your baby's spine and muscle tone to determine if there is a structural issue present. We would be happy to discuss any concerns with you at your next appointment!

By: Dr. Megan Stavalone

Perinatal Certified Chiropractor at ANH Wellness

Disclaimer: "The information including but not limited to text, graphics, images, and other material contained on this website is for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment."

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