Many children take a little time to get used to spending time on their bellies, learning to lift their head and chest.
They might even actively dislike it at first.
But it’s important for their development.
And one of the things we love to talk about is tummy time.
In some cases, when babies don’t get enough tummy time, it can lead to a condition called torticollis, a tight or crooked neck, or plagiocephaly, which is the flattening of their skull.
Torticollis is treatable with infant torticollis physical therapy near me, but it’s best to avoid it in the first place.
But for now, let’s take a closer look at tummy time.
What Is Tummy Time?
Tummy time is any time your baby spends lying on their belly while they’re awake.
Tummy time isn’t just play time– it’s important for your little one’s physical and cognitive development.
Spending time lying on their stomach helps babies develop their muscle strength, coordination, sensory skills, and even vision.
Why Is Tummy Time Important?
Tummy time is an essential part of your baby’s development.
Tummy time is active time for your child, giving them an opportunity to build skills and strength.
During tummy time your baby will build strength and stability in several key muscle groups, develop gross motor skills, and develop their sensory and cognitive systems.
1. It Helps Develop Their Muscles
In their first six months, tummy time gives your little one the opportunity to build muscle strength, control, and stability.
Tummy time paves the path to a lot of developmental milestones.
- Being able to lift and support their head
- Rolling in both directions
- Being able to lift their chest with both arms
All that strength building and coordinated movement also helps your child with fine motor skills like writing as they grow older.
Without tummy time, their muscles won’t develop as well, which can lead to needing pediatric physical therapy or occupational therapy for developmental delays.
2. It Reduces Risk Of Torticollis
Torticollis is a condition where muscle strain leads to a twist in your baby’s neck.
This involves their sterocleidomastoid muscles, or SCM.
Your baby’s SCM muscles run from behind their ears down the side of their neck to their collarbone.
When one of the SCM muscles is under too much pressure it can tighten, leading to a twist or stiffness in your child’s neck.
Torticollis develops naturally in the womb for many babies and can also develop in infancy.
Tummy time allows your baby to naturally strengthen and stretch their neck and shoulders when they lift and turn their head.
Strength in all the muscles in the neck and shoulders prevents your baby over working their SCM, helping them to maintain happy muscles and avoid torticollis.
3. It Helps Them Look Around
If your baby spends most of their time on their back, they only get to look at what’s above them and in their direct field of view.
Put your kiddo on their belly and you’ve turned their whole world around!
Tummy time gives your little one a chance to see the world from a different vantage point.
This allows them to look around more and get more familiar with their surroundings.
You can also tuck baby belly side down on your arm and go for a walk around the house or backyard.
Narrating what they see along the way will help them learn even more about their environment.
4. It’s Good For Their Vestibular And Tactile Senses
Your vestibular system is your sensory system – it tells you where your body is in relation to the ground and your surroundings.
A developed vestibular system allows your baby to learn more senses and skills like balance, spatial orientation, and posture control.
Their vestibular system will advance and develop as they shift their weight side to side during tummy time, leading them to rolling and eventually crawling.
Your little one will also absorb a lot of information about the world by touching new textures during tummy time.
Lying on, touching and eventually crawling across different textures helps your little one get a sense of squishy, firm, soft, rough, smooth, and more.
Your child will learn how these textures feel, and how to grip, balance, and move along them.
When Should You Start Tummy Time?
Your pediatrician will let you know if there’s any reason to avoid tummy time.
Otherwise, your baby is ready for tummy time as soon as you bring them home from the hospital.
You can introduce different types of tummy time to your child gradually.
In early infancy, laying your child on your chest for some skin to skin contact builds strength and senses while also letting you and your little one bond.
After a few weeks you can start using pillows and blankets to prop your baby’s chest up for tummy time on the floor and then progress to flat on the floor.
It’s important to make sure their arms are untucked and that their elbows are under their shoulders.
This gives them the best alignment for pushing up on their elbows.
At around 4-5 months you will notice them pressing all the way up to their hands and maybe even trying to reach for toys or pivot their body.
You can keep doing tummy time with your little one until they are able to roll in both directions and have started to crawl or move about on their own.
How Long Should A Baby Do Tummy Time?
The general rule of thumb is 30 minutes twice a day, but work up to that gradually with your baby’s tolerance.
Your baby will build more stamina and comfort with tummy time over their first several weeks.
At first, you can ease your child in by giving them tummy time three to five times a day, for up to five minutes at a time.
Try gradually increasing to ten minutes several times a day at the end of your baby’s first month and increasing by ten minutes each month after that.
As your baby develops more muscle strength, stability, and motor skills, you can add new tummy time activities to keep things interesting.
What Should I Do During Tummy Time?
Your job during tummy time is to keep your little one safe and offer them stimulation.
Never leave your child unsupervised during tummy time, and make sure that both you and baby are awake and alert.
You can also take an active role in giving your child new experiences by safely introducing them to new forms of tummy time and adding new toys to enrich their play.
1. Lie Baby On Your Stomach
Belly to belly tummy time is a great way to stimulate your child’s visual system while also giving you a chance to bond with your child.
Lying flat or propping yourself up to a 45 degree angle with pillows, lay your baby on your belly and chest, so that you are face to face.
Be sure to hold on firmly and lie on a soft surface for your own comfort and in case your little one wriggles or rolls off your belly.
A variation on this option is to lay your child on their belly across your lap, with a hand on their bottom for stability.
Along with a little back rub, this position can be very soothing, and it is helpful for burping – be sure to have a towel on hand just in case!
2. Rock Baby Back And Forth
Rocking can be a calming motion for your child, and a little stretch and arm workout for you.
Lay your child along your forearm, with their chest or belly resting in your hand and the crook of your elbow snug between their legs.
You can hold your little one close to your body for more support or try placing your other hand on their back for a little more stability and safety.
Gently sway from side to side or rotate your upper body back and forth to create a rocking motion.
Walking around while your child is in this position is a great way for them to explore your home.
3. Lie Baby On Something Soft
A soft, but firm, surface is a great way to keep your child comfortable during tummy time.
For newborns, your belly or chest are great places to start.
As your baby graduates to tummy time on the floor, lay them on a play mat or thick blanket.
Use props like a cushions, wedge pillows, or rolled blankets to support their chest until they have enough strength to lift their own chest for a few minutes at a time.
Experiment with surfaces and supports to find options that work for your child during different activities.
4. Make Eye Contact With Baby
Seeing faces is important for your baby’s cognitive development and can help them develop focus and eyesight.
Getting down to your baby’s eye level will encourage them to make eye contact.
You can use a pillow or a rolled up blanket or towel under your child’s chest to give them some extra support and encourage more engagement.
Try using toys or your own face and hands to encourage your kiddo to focus their gaze.
Once they’ve locked on, slowly move the object up and down and from side to side to help them develop stability, coordination, and tracking skills.
What Do I Do If My Baby Hates Tummy Time?
Tummy time can be frustrating to your child at first.
Your child might feel stuck or trapped because they do not yet have the motor skills to roll from their tummy to their back.
Tummy time may be uncomfortable or frightening, or they may just be bored and craving contact.
You can help your child get used to tummy time by building it into their daily routine, gradually increasing their amount of tummy time, and integrating new activities over time.
Burping your little one over your lap, rolling them onto their belly for a minute of free bum time during their diaper changes, and using tummy time for skin to skin or face to face bonding are great ways to put them at ease.
You can introduce them to the position by gently rocking them from back to tummy to back on both sides as a warm up to tummy time.
Make sure somebody else is in their line of sight, so they know they are not alone and feel like they’re a part of the action.
While a little bit of fussing or grunting is a sign that your baby is working on muscle strength and movement, don’t leave them lying so long that they get frustrated or start crying.
Even if your baby tolerates only 30 seconds on their belly at first, they’re developing and growing during every bit of tummy time you spend with them.
Keep in mind too, that it’s a good idea to wait for a while after baby has eaten before doing tummy time.
Doing it too quickly may cause acid reflux.
Speaking of which, if your baby is consistently fussy during tummy time, it’s a good idea to speak to your pediatrician.
That’s a sign your baby may have chronic acid reflux.
Book Your Appointment With Little Feet Pediatric Therapy Today
Has your child developed torticollis, or were they born with it?
Is your child extremely grumpy about tummy time?
Are none of your strategies helping your little one to embrace the belly and build muscle strength?
If so, we can help.
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Founded in 2019, Little Feet Therapy offers on site pediatric physical and occupational therapy treatments for children from 2 months to 18 years old with physical and developmental concerns. Our clinics focus on providing therapy in a child’s natural setting where your child is in familiar surroundings, it puts their mind at ease and helps them focus more on the work they’re doing with their pediatric therapist. Our therapists will work with your child at your home, at school, at daycare, or another place in the community where they feel most comfortable.