Whether your baby hates tummy time or loves it, it is extremely important for ongoing infant development. Not just to improve physical strength but to provide sensory stimulation for left and right brain coordination. It improves near point vision and helps to overcome primitive reflexes such as stepping and startle reflexes.
Since 1994, parents have been encouraged to sleep babies on their back to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). This sleeping position has seen a massive decrease in SIDS but parents now seem fearful to lay babies on their tummy at all. This lack of tummy time has seen an increase in flattened head shapes and an overuse of sitting aids for babies.
Tummy time describes a dedicated time set aside to lay baby facing forwards on their front. As a newborn this position could be skin to skin on your chest or lying flat across your forearm or thighs. Begin with short intervals offered often and by three months expect your baby to be having approximately an hour of tummy time accumulated across the day and not including the time your baby sleeps on his tummy. If you give tummy time in short bursts and often in the beginning it enables muscle and ligament strength to build slowly helping your baby to feel more comfortable as he learns to lie in a forward facing position.
The floor is a good place for tummy time. Prepare a suitable area using a firm rubber surface covered with a colourful quilt. This will bring both comfort and visual stimulation. If you have a boisterous and clumsy toddler or pre-schooler in the house, put your little one in a playpen for tummy time. When your baby is on his tummy with knees slightly bent, place your hand against the soles of his feet and feel him push against you, propelling himself forward.
You can rest your baby’s chest over a rolled up bunny rug or towel during tummy time to encourage him to stay on his tummy a little longer. You could also try lying in front of him to keep him entertained or place a mirror or some colourful toys close by that will catch his attention and tempt him to stay on his tummy longer. Your baby’s head is heavy and difficult to lift up when he is tired. For this reason, try to have tummy time during the first half of his wake time and not near the end when he is tired and getting ready for sleep. Forcing your baby to spend time on his tummy when he hates it will only make a negative experience for everyone. Another way to provide tummy time is holding him securely in your arms facing the floor and sway and rock him through the air. Move with music for added interest and stimulation.
Lying front down allows your baby to see the world from different angles and perform different actions. It provides ongoing opportunity to lift his head and raise his chest – strengthening ligaments, neck and back muscles and forearm development. Tummy time helps drain the tubes between the ears and nose that when blocked cause ear infections. Raising his head is hard work at first but with regular repetition it becomes easier and your baby will learn to love this position and all the stimulation and development that it provides.
As your baby grows and develops he will begin to co-ordinate his body to slide forwards, backwards and around in circles. These are important actions for connecting pathways in the brain. These pathways form the foundations to develop more advanced coordinated movements such as crawling.
If you have encouraged your baby to enjoy tummy time in every possible way but he still hates it there can be several reasons for making it hard or causing pain. For this reason it is important to have him assessed by a child health professional as early as possible. Once treatment is provided and the cause is fixed your little one will be able to do what he is meant to be doing – dedicated regular tummy time until he is up and walking.