When I was still pregnant, I started reading about tummy time. I knew it was good for babies, but I wasn’t quite sure why. Especially in the early months, it seemed a bit useless and impossible, but I did it anyway. Now I’m seeing the results, and I can’t recommend it enough. But what is tummy time and why does it matter. And even more importantly, how can you make sure that you and your little one enjoy it?
The first thing to always remember is that babies are advised not to sleep on their tummies. By putting your little one down to sleep only on her back, you vastly reduce her risk of SIDS (aka Cot Death). Tummy time isn’t about sleep, it’s about active, attended time for playing and developing. In fact, tummy time is incredibly important for development – by holding up their heads babies develop their neck, shoulder, back and trunk muscles, all of which are important for turning over, sitting up and crawling. Harley loves tummy time, but that’s probably because of how I introduced her to it and how we keep it fun.
Why Tummy Time is important
There has been a ton of research into tummy time and why it’s so important for little ones. By being forced to lift their heads and upper bodies to look around, babies develop stronger muscles. Even if babies aren’t placed on their tummies, they’ll still learn to turn over, sit up or walk. However, when they get enough tummy time, they are more likely to reach those important milestones sooner. It’s not a race, and babies shouldn’t be rushed to turn over, sit or walk before they’re ready, but by helping their muscles to develop and reaching those milestones more easily, it sets them up for greater physical and mental development down the line.
I’m not totally convinced, but some articles even claim that tummy time will make a baby smarter. The idea is that by gaining the necessary muscles to turn over or sit up sooner, the connections in the brain are made more strongly. Plus, babies are then able to explore their environment sooner – grabbing for toys, tracking objects with their eyes and other motor skills that babies need to wire their brains. At no other time in our lives do our brains develop as quickly as they do in the first three years of life – that first year is particularly important for developing motor, social and language skills, and tummy time is a fantastic way to help your little one grow and see the world in new ways.
It might not be totally true. I mean, all these theories about what makes babies smarter seem to change all the time. But if it makes her stronger, and we can have fun doing it, it certainly can’t hurt to help her develop all around – from back to front and everything in between. So tummy time has become a regular part of our day.
How to do Tummy Time, even if your little one hates it
I’m quite lucky now – Harley really enjoys her tummy time. However, it wasn’t always that way, and even now sometimes she gets frustrated and irritated. But we started off by linking it to bonding. From the early days, I would lay her on my chest or tummy. We would look at each other, or just cuddle and enjoy the time together. This was even better when we did it skin to skin, which was comfy to do because it was so hot when we brought her home – neither of us wanted to wear much.
As she’s gotten older and more able to lift her head, we do tummy time in new ways. Sometimes I’ll lie her on her tummy next to me on the couch so we can watch TV together. She loves the moving pictures, and it encourages her to lift her head so that she can see what’s going on. Plus, I can hang out with her and give her reassuring pats on her back or diaper while still catching up on my favorite series.
When I have energy and inclination, the best is to do tummy time on the floor. I’ll put down a clean blanket for her to lie on, and she hangs out on her tummy on the floor. I’ve got some cool board books for her to look at, or I’ll roll a ball around in front of her that she can follow. Of course, her favorite is when I get down nice and low and give her a big smile and chat to her – she babbles away and gives me huge grins while we hang out on the floor.
Dean has also discovered that she likes tummy time if she’s propped up a bit more under her chest so she can get higher. When I’m getting dressed in the morning, I’ll often put her on the bed on her tummy so that she can watch me getting changed (and I can keep an eye on her). Surprisingly, that’s often the time when she figures out that she can roll over or move around the most.
Of course, she gets frustrated and irritated after a while. Much like I get tired after time at the gym (or I used to when I was able to get there before falling pregnant), it’s a lot of hard work for little ones to lift like that. Instead of keeping tummy time going for long period of time, the best is to do it frequently for short bursts. Changing a nappy/diaper? Finish off with a minute of tummy time. Enjoying playtime or story time together? Add a minute or two of tummy time. And I always reward her for doing so well on her tummy with plenty of hugs and kisses when I pick her up again.