Question: What are the benefits of “tummy time” for my baby? It scares me to allow my baby to be on his stomach.
Answer: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends placing babies on their backs to sleep and on their tummies to play as part of a daily routine.
That being said, tummy time should only take place when the infant is awake and being observed by a caregiver. Tummy time is a way to enhance an infant’s motor development. It is an important developmental tool to strengthen a baby’s neck, arms and core muscles to aid in meeting developmental milestones and to minimize the risk of flat spots on the back of the head.
Tummy time should begin as soon as you’re home from the hospital. Newborns sleep. A lot. And parents are naturally mainly concerned with the basics — feeding, changing, bathing and bonding — leaving little time for anything else.
With that in mind, tummy time activities for this age should center on carrying and calming your new baby. Start small. Aim for a few minutes at a time, several times a day.
Lay your baby tummy down across your lap to settle him down instead of holding him upright on your shoulder. Enjoy some together time. Lie down and place your baby “tummy-to-tummy” or “tummy-to-chest.” This way baby learns to accept it as part of his routine and will start to strengthen upper body, arms and core muscles on the way to meeting milestones.
Tummy time on your chest is a good start, but you should work up to floor time. Every time you change your baby, do a little tummy time. Once your baby expects it, he may not protest so much.
As your baby grows, slowly increase the amount of tummy time per day, aiming to get an hour total by the end of three months. This shouldn’t be all at once, but in short intervals throughout the day.
Lack of tummy time can result in developmental delays. Most babies don’t like it initially and, therefore, most parents avoid it. Make it a fun time. Try getting down there with him face to face using a favorite toy or baby-proof mirror to distract him.
Babies also love the sound of our voices, so sing or talk to him as well to keep his interest. Some babies enjoy being propped a bit using a rolled-up receiving blanket under the chest.
Always place your baby on his back to sleep. To further encourage him to turn his head from side to side, you can alternate his position on his back in his crib.
On even days of the month, place his head toward the “head” of the crib. On odd days of the month, place his feet toward the “head” of the crib.
When he wakes up and you go take him out of his crib, he will be turning his head in different directions to make eye contact with you.
Good luck and remember: “back to sleep” and “tummy to play.”