By Taryn Tacher
Having a baby comes with a laundry list of questions and concerns. Should you breastfeed? What’s the proper way to change a diaper? How often do babies need to be fed? At what age will they reach certain milestones, like rolling over, sitting up, walking and talking?
Tummy time is one of those topics that gives rise to even more questions. What is it? When should you start? How often should you do it?
Tummy time is exactly what it sounds like. It is the time your baby spends on his or her stomach, as opposed to his or her back. When little ones lie on their stomachs, they must use their head, neck and shoulder muscles to lift their heads up to see what is going on around them. This promotes the strengthening of those muscles, as well as motor skills like rolling over, crawling, playing and reaching for toys and food. Tummy time helps prevent positional plagiocephaly — flat head — because it limits the amount of time babies spend lying on their backs and the backs of their heads.
“I like to think of tummy time as one of baby’s first exercises, and [it] should be started early in the first week of life,” said Dr. Alexandra Stern of UF Health Pediatrics – Magnolia Parke. When they are awake and alert, let them lie on their stomachs on a hard, flat surface, like the floor. Avoid placing your baby on loose blankets.
“Finding the right time is also important, such as after waking from a nap,” said Dr. Stern. You should also be sure to avoid scheduling tummy time when your baby is hungry or immediately after they have eaten. Lying on a full stomach can cause discomfort.
Dr. Stern advised engaging your baby in tummy time two to three times a day for three to five minutes at a time. As he or she grows stronger, you can increase the amount of time he or she spends tummy-down.
If your baby fusses and does not enjoy tummy time, do not worry. There is so much you can do to help your baby grow accustomed to being tummy-down.
- Lie on your tummy. Your baby will feel more comfortable being on his or her stomach if you are doing the same.
- Shake rattles and toys. Not only will toys and rattles distract babies from any discomfort they may feel when lying on their stomachs, but they will likely pick their head up to get a better look at whatever it is that you are holding.
- Sing songs or read stories. Your baby will exercise his or her head, neck and shoulder muscles to lift his or her head at the sound of your voice.
- Stand mirrors up on the floor. Your baby will be curious about his or her own reflection. The mirrors serve as a distraction and as a way to coax your baby into lifting his or her head up.
- Place baby on your chest or tummy. If your baby is extra fussy, he or she may be calmed by experiencing tummy time on your chest or tummy. Baby will have a great view of your face, and he or she will feel comforted by being close to you.
*Always be sure to supervise your children during tummy time!