When you lay your baby down to sleep, you’re careful to put him or her on her back for safety reasons, but that doesn’t mean that your son or daughter should spend all of their time face up. Tummy time is actually an integral part of mental and physical development for your baby.
In addition, “Tummy Time” is for you! That’s right—you should be right down there with your child, face-to-face, giggling, tickling and playing. This bonding time is important and a real delight. It’s great for your child, and it’s great for you!
The benefits of tummy time
The first way tummy time affects your baby is by teaching him or her how to lift their head on their own, strengthening their neck and back muscles. This is important because strong muscles mean your baby can turn his or her head, roll away or sit up to get out of the way of anything that might be smothering. He or she will also start being able to hold up their head on their own, which means you will have to cradle it less.
Tummy time also affects the shape of your baby’s head. When your son or daughter spends all of their time on their looking up at the ceiling, flat spots begin to develop on the back of his or her head; by putting your baby on his or her stomach, the head actually takes on a much rounder shape.
How to do it safely
Before tummy time, set up a flat, smooth surface on which to place your baby—on the ground or in an environment with sturdy sides to prevent falls. Remove any nearby obstacles that could be choking hazards or cause accidents or head bumps. Many doctors offer no set guidelines for the amount of time that’s appropriate, but you can start with 5 to 10 minutes of tummy time at least once a day, every day. You can go longer if your baby appears to be enjoying it, but when he or she begins to cry, that’s when it’s time to pick them up. Of course, you’ll want to watch your child closely during tummy time; this is especially important before your son or daughter develops the strength to keep his or her head up for an extended period of time.
How to make it easier on your child
The first few times your child experiences tummy time, it can be scary or difficult as they don’t yet know how to hold up their head. You can start by putting your baby on his or her tummy on your chest to provide them with a sense of comfort. Or get down on the floor with your baby and make fun faces that get him or her excited about tummy time. You can also put toys nearby that encourage your baby to reach or lift his or her head to enjoy them.
When to start
As surprising as it sounds, you can actually introduce tummy time right away—even to your newborn. You might be hesitant to do this and may prefer to start after the umbilical cord has healed, but as long as there isn’t too much pressure on the stump it’s fine to begin early.
Remember that the more practice you and your child get, the easier tummy time will become. It might feel like a bit of a struggle at first, with your baby getting a little fussy, but be patient and keep trying. Before you know it, it will be part of your routine to the benefit of your whole family.