You’ve probably heard this one before: give your baby lots of tummy time. But what if your baby HATES tummy time? First, let’s talk about why tummy time is useful, and then dive into some easy activities that build your baby’s endurance for being on her tummy.
When your baby was growing in mama’s womb, space became tight (if she was born full-term). Curled up inside, her back and neck muscles were being stretched and readied for use. Tummy time gives baby the chance to use and strengthen her back and neck muscles.
On her tummy, she grunts and struggles to coordinate different muscle groups to lift and turn her head and to raise her chest off the floor. Tummy time stretches and readies her tummy muscles for use.
Both her tummy and back muscles need to work together as she learns to roll, sit, crawl, stand and walk. Tummy time builds postural control – being able to use back and tummy muscles to move against gravity. Postural control provides the foundation for all types of movement.
And guess what? As she props herself up on her arms, she is getting her upper body muscles ready for reaching and grasping and exploring. You might say that tummy time gets her ready to cut and color in kindergarten.
With the Back-to-Sleep safety campaign (which has been very successful in reducing the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) there has also been a rise in Plagiocephaly (flat areas on the skull) from babies lying in one position. Tummy time helps prevent Plagiocephaly and Torticollis – tight neck muscles.
Tummy Time Tips
- Limit the amount of time your baby spends in baby equipment. The only way she will develop motor skills is through practice.
- Work in tummy time during the activities you do each day: diaper changing, bathing, dressing or burping on your knees.
- Carry your baby different ways: try front “tuck”, side lying or tummy down.
- Set your baby up to play in different positions through the day. When you are close by to supervise, you can roll a towel to prop her on her right side, and then on her left side. Side-lying lets her “discover” her hands.
- Roll a small towel and place it under her chest and arms. This will help her stay propped up on her elbows. Hold her bottom or lower back down so she has an “anchor” to lift herself from.
- Try some lap play: sit in a comfy chair and prop your feet up on a stool. Lay your baby on her back so her bottom is right up close to your tummy, and her back is nicely rounded. Dangle a toy from her toes and help her reach for it. Recite some simple baby songs or rhymes and “clap” with her feet. Here, baby is pulled up nice and close to mama on the floor.
- Lay tummy to tummy. Start by reclining your body so it’s not so hard for baby to lift her head. As she gets older, you can lie flatter.
- Be an “elevator”: lie on your back with your legs together and hips and knees bent. Hold your baby tummy down on your shins, and slowly take the “elevator” up and down.
- Use a large exercise ball. You can vary the angle and breadth of movement, depending on your baby’s ability.
Keep at it. Bit by bit, your baby will get stronger and surprise you with her new accomplishments!
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PS. Thanks to my fellow Occupational Therapist, Christie of www.mamaot.com for these beautiful pictures of baby tummy time.