By Ellie Ford, Occupational Therapist Youthrive
What is tummy time?
Tummy time is when babies or young children are laying or playing on their bellies, also known as the prone position. Tummy time should be considered a position for play, to explore new sensory experiences, objects, toys and view the world in a different way. Tummy time is well known for its benefits, however how and when to implement tummy time can be challenging for parents to navigate. This article aims to provide general information to equip you to feel more comfortable understanding and implementing tummy time.
When should you start implementing tummy time with your child?
For a healthy, full-term baby tummy time can commence soon after birth and can be incorporated into you and your baby’s daily routine. Tummy time should always be supervised and occur when your child is most alert. It can even begin during a newborn’s first few weeks of life. For newborns, they will likely spend tummy time with their cheek resting on the ground surface. This position is still beneficial as it allows the muscles in the neck to elongate, which is a necessary step for muscles before they strengthen. In the womb, when babies are in the foetal position with their chin on their chest, the muscles at the front of the neck are shortened. A tummy time position with an infant’s cheek on the surface beneath them allows for these muscles to elongate, which allows the strengthening of those very same muscles as they grow and develop.
It’s important to note, tummy time is not just for babies. As children grow, they may naturally spend less time in this position and instead move onto crawling, walking and sitting at the table to play or learn. However, playing in the prone position is important for children up until they are 5 years old to continue the development of their upper body and core strength, which will help them to engage in meaningful activities (or occupations) throughout their day. For example, these skills are required for drawing and handwriting, playing with peers, and in self-care tasks, such as dressing.
How to implement tummy time
You can do tummy time in different locations or environments, such as outdoors on a rug. Placing favourite toys or a baby safe mirror nearby can help peak interest and keep your baby engaged. You can also get down to your baby’s level so that you can interact, talk, sing or play with them. With children that are a bit older, they might lay in the prone position to watch TV, play board games, draw or engage in other activities.
If you find your baby is hesitant to engage in tummy time initially, try placing a rolled up towel, nursing pillow or cushion underneath their arms to prop them up, or place or your baby on your tummy or chest. Tummy time should be gradually increased and monitored depending on how your baby likes tummy time. Starting with 1-3 minutes per day of tummy time is recommended, which can then be slowly increased, working up to 15-20 minutes per day. This time can be done all at once, or spread out throughout the day. Tummy time should always be closely monitored and they should never sleep on their stomach.
What are the benefits of tummy time/why is it important for development
- Tummy time provides the opportunity for baby’s & young children to weight bear through the upper limbs which helps strengthen and build arm, shoulder, hand and neck muscles, all of which are required for successful crawling. These muscles also form the building blocks for more functional tasks as they grow and develop, including drawing and handwriting.
- Tummy time can also help prevent flat spots (called plagiocephaly) on your baby’s head, by reducing pressure on the back of the head.
- Tummy time isn’t just important for babies, it is beneficial for kids all the way up to 5 years old. Playing games, reading, drawing or watching TV in the prone position develops postural stability, upper limb strength and co-ordination, spatial awareness, body awareness and hand-eye co-ordination. These skills are required for many activities that children engage in at home or learning environments, such as sitting at a desk, sitting cross legged on the carpet, sports and much more.
Do some babies hate tummy time?
Some babies take longer to get comfortable in the new position, and may react or respond negatively, such as screaming, when placed on their belly. It doesn’t mean that they hate tummy time, they may just need more time to adjust to the different position and a new way to see the world. You may need to try different ways of engage in tummy time, such as the baby laying on your chest so that you are face to face, or be propped up with a nursing cushion or rolled up towel. Please remember to always supervise your child when they are spending time on their tummy.
If you continue to notice a negative response to tummy time, discuss this with your health care team to figure out a plan that works for you and your child.