“You should be giving your son about twenty minutes of tummy time a day,” my doctor instructed.
My jaw dropped. Twenty minutes? How about twenty seconds?
“But my baby hates tummy time!” I said. “Am I supposed to leave him on the ground screaming for twenty minutes?” Was there something wrong with my baby if he couldn’t stand being on his stomach?
If this story sounds familiar, don’t lose hope. At the time, I was sure that no other baby had this problem. Luckily, I had other mommy-friends that assured me otherwise. They shared their tips with me, and in no time, my son ended up tummy-timing with the best of them.
Why is Tummy Time So Important?
Ever since studies showed that tummy sleeping could increase the risk of SIDS, parents have been told to put their babies to sleep on their backs, rather than on their stomachs. An excellent idea, and one which has reduced the incidence of SIDS by over 50%, thereby saving babies’ lives. At the same time, there are two inevitable side effects that come along with increased back sleeping:
- Babies who sleep on their backs are at a higher risk of positional plagiocephaly, or baby flat-head syndrome. The sleeping surface can apply pressure to the soft backs of their heads, creating a misshapen head.
- Babies who sleep on their backs meet certain developmental milestones more slowly, such as pushing up, turning over, crawling, and walking. This makes sense, because babies who spend less time on their tummies get less practice using their chest and arm muscles and have fewer opportunities to try out these skills.
- Giving babies tummy time while they are awake reduces the risk of developing positional plagiocephaly, and it also gives them a chance to use the muscles that they will need for crawling.
When to Start
Many parents wonder when they should start giving their babies tummy time. The answer? As soon as possible. The earlier you start them on tummy time, the earlier they’ll get used to it and view it as a normal part of life. If you can, begin giving your baby tummy time while you’re still in the hospital. It could be that your baby will never have tummy time problems to begin with!
Before you decide to introduce tummy time, check to see if the timing is right. Did your baby just eat? If so, being on his stomach might be uncomfortable. Is he tired or hungry? If so, make sure he’s comfortable before you begin.
At the beginning, place your baby on his stomach for very short intervals. When your baby starts crying, pick him up and try again later. If that means picking him up after ten seconds, so be it.
How would you feel if someone left you in an uncomfortable position to stare at a blank wall? During tummy time, your baby needs some entertainment. Get down on the floor and join her! Put your face close to hers and make funny faces or play peek-a-boo. Introduce a brightly-colored toy, or softly shake a rattle near her head. These distractions will keep her more willing to endure longer stretches of tummy time, and eventually she may even connect tummy time with enjoyable play.
There’s no rule that tummy time only “counts” if the baby is flat on the floor. Try laying your baby on your stomach, tummy to tummy. Carrying her over your shoulder is another alternative that takes the pressure off the back of her head. Even laying her tummy-down across your linked arms is better than putting her on her back.
If your baby cannot yet hold up her head, try laying her across a nursing pillow or on a rolled up blanket. The change in position may spark her interest. Better yet, my mother said that she spent years eating her meals with one of us lying face down across her knees (I’m one of four siblings). Although that idea never worked for my baby, I’ve heard other parents maintain that it was the only way they could eat in peace.
So if, like me, you’re saying, “But my baby hates tummy time,” take heart! Others have been there before, and we’ve persevered. And in no time, your doctor will be telling you that your child should be sitting for twenty minutes on the potty, and you’ll think “twenty minutes? Try twenty seconds!” Time flies, so enjoy your baby while it lasts.
This post is part of the series: Infant Development
Baby doesn’t want tummy time? Baby refuses to sit up straight? This series of infant development offers ideas for parents and daycare providers about how to support infants' steadily growing skills.