What the Heck is Tummy Time?
Every healthy baby should spend some time on her tummy, and ideally should do it a little bit every day. So what’s the fuss about? After the “back to sleep” campaign encouraged parents to lovingly place their babies on their backs to sleep as a preventive measure against S.I.D.S., doctors found that babies and toddlers were hitting developmental mile markers like belly-crawling, creeping and walking later than they had in previous generations. As a result, the American Academy of Pediatrics began recommending that babies spend time on their “tummies to play”. Despite this, many physicians neglect to mention the importance of tummy time to parents of little babies, or they’ll say, “we don’t worry about tummy time until the child is four or six months.” Developmentally, tummy time is important, because as the baby spends time on her front in the prone position, her neurological and somatic systems will become better integrated, laying the foundation for future learning.
What does Tummy Time do?
In the littlest babies, tummy time has a soothing effect on involuntary regulatory systems, like breathing, temperature regulation and digestion. In slightly older babies, tummy time enhances visual eye tracking, postural development and locomotor coordination.
But what are parents to do if their little one, simply put, hates tummy time?
Often I hear from concerned caregivers that their little ones just do not like to be on their tummies. Some of the suggestions about improving tummy time that I make in my classes include thinking about the surface baby uses for tummy time, the time of day, whether baby is in a good mood for trying something new, and also to think about the effort that baby is making as like an adult working out at the gym. We may grunt or grimace, because what we’re doing takes focus, hard work and determination. Babies are working hard on their tummies, too! As for the play surface, babies may or may not enjoy tummy time on a squishy mattress or sofa, since they have to push away from something soft just to breathe–a warm, clean floor is fine for baby, really! The best advice I have for improving tummy time–and making it something fun instead of a chore–is to use the time-honored child development tool: distraction.
Here are some easy, free–no toys or gadgets necessary–ways to play with baby and sneak that tummy time in to boot. I hope that as your little one is having so much fun, s/he won’t realize s/he’s doing something s/he doesn’t like!!
Ten Ways to Have Fun on Your Tummy, Baby!
Blow bubbles for baby as you sing a favorite song. Younger babies will enjoy focusing their eyes on the small and large circles, and older babies will enjoy popping them!
Babies love to play hide and seek. Lying down in front of Baby, hide under a blanket and ask, “Where’s Mommy?” or “Where’s Daddy?” Then hide Baby!
3. Beach Ball!
Some babies will really like being on their tummies while balancing on a beach ball or yoga ball. Hold baby in place or bounce her gently as you sing or do fun rhymes together. If you incorporate some gentle rocking, too, you’re helping Baby to develop her balancing system while you play!
4. Blanket Rides!
Did you ever want to take a magic carpet ride? Babies enjoy being pulled from place to place on a sheet or blanket. Little babies may like being gently rocked by two caregivers in a blanket ‘swing’, and older babies may want you to pull them up and down the hallway and all over the house! This is a great way to explore moving on different levels and for babies to have a new sense of locomotion!
Babies can relate early on to the ways that different animals move. You can make a game out of this by putting a bunch of small stuffed animals in a pillowcase and pulling them out one by one. See if you and baby can make the sound and movement that the animal uses. Does the animal move on his tummy? How? Or does the animal move on four feet or two? Does the animal even have feet? How do you think it moves?
Patterns are fun for baby to find and easy for you to create for her. A few yards of brightly colored ribbon placed on the floor will be endlessly entertaining. You and baby can explore making different pathways or shapes with the ribbons. The littlest babies will enjoy the bright colors and will even notice the contrast between the colors.
7. Who said that?
Babies enjoy your voice most of all, and it can be fun to engage them in a little conversation on your tummies. Try echoing their lovely little coos and gurgles, and watch how they respond to you when you vary your vocal pitch and rhythm. Echoing is a wonderful part of language acquisition!
8. Tickle and touch!
Gently massage baby after bath or before a nap, trying different kinds of touch. You can caress, rub, tickle, tap, press and blow on baby. Try adding simple rhymes to this activity or sing a little song. This sensory input will be both invigorating and relaxing for baby.
9. Movement for Mom!
In the weeks following birth, the new mother will want to take it easy on her body. She’s just been through a big transition and needs full time to recover. But some gentle stretching, with physician’s approval, can be a wonderful boost to morale and even aid in her recovery. Some fun ways to incorporate tummy time and maternal stretching are to place baby across your lap as you stretch your chest, back and arms, to bounce baby on your shins while lying on your back and flexing your pelvis and back or facing baby on your tummies while you practice simple yoga poses like cobra and cat.
10. Hey, you’re a baby!
If you have a friend with a little one, why not get them together for little head-to-head tummy time? They’ll delight in seeing each other’s tiny bodies, and you can marvel at their wonderful growth and development.
© 2003-2017 Rachael Carnes