By: Brittany Gartner
If you have spent any time reading through blogs or parenting magazines or spent any time with a physical therapist, then you probably know how important TUMMY TIME is, right? But, the majority of parents have probably already rolled their eyes and thought “Yeah, try telling that to my baby!” Tummy Time is essential for your baby to develop strong neck, arm and core muscles, to prepare for rolling, sitting and crawling, and to prevent flat head syndrome. But, if you are like most parents, you struggle to get much tummy time done because your baby isn’t the biggest fan of being on his tummy! Here are 10 tricks to make tummy time more enjoyable for both YOU and your BABY:
1. EVERYTHING IN MODERATION
Tummy Time is a marathon, not a sprint. Your little nugget will not be able to do an hour of tummy time right away! Your baby’s age will also determine how long is appropriate for each tummy time session. At about 2 weeks old, your baby may only be able to maintain tummy time for 15-20 seconds at a time. By the time they are 2 months old; however, they should be able to maintain for several minutes at a time. The important thing to remember is to listen to your baby. If he is fussing just a little, it is okay to help him push through and last a little while longer. But, if your baby is extremely distressed, then pushing through probably won’t be very productive. You know your baby better than anyone else, and you can help him build up his endurance over time!
2. BE PRESENT
Tummy Time can be a hard time for your baby and puts a lot of demands on his little body, especially if he has lower muscle tone or other underlying diagnoses. Something that will help your baby tolerate this time better is if you are there and present with him. He will do better knowing that you are with him and supporting him. Interacting with you will also help distract him and hopefully maintain this position a little longer. If you have older children, they can help keep baby entertained while he plays on his tummy, too.
3. CHOOSE A HIGHER SURFACE
If Tummy Time is not your baby’s favorite activity, sometimes the reason can be as simple as he is missing out on watching his environment! Think about it: when a baby is on his tummy, when he lifts his head he can only see a few inches above the ground. Meanwhile, everything he likes to look at is much higher above the floor. So, sometimes babies are just frustrated because they want to see what is going on around them. When you are able to fully supervise baby, try putting him up on the couch, bed, or other higher (safe) surface. This will allow him to see what is going on while practicing his arm and neck strength!
4. GIVE A BOOST
Babies are at a disadvantage when it comes to tummy time because a baby’s head is very large in proportion to the rest of his body, and let’s face it…gravity is HEAVY. If your baby is having trouble with tummy time, try giving him a little boost by placing a towel roll or a boppy under his chest. This will give him a better advantage because he is not fighting as much gravity. The higher the support, the easier holding his head up will be. As your baby gets better, you can slowly start to lower the support down, until eventually he will be able to be flat on the floor (or other surface) with no problem.
5. USE ALTERNATIVE POSITIONS
Sometimes, doing the same thing in the same position everyday can get boring! Be creative and utilize different positions to accomplish the same goal! You can try putting your baby on your chest–basically, you become the floor. This gives you great face-to-face bonding time you’re your baby. You can sit with your knees bent up with your baby lying on your legs (baby facing away from you, with arms propped up on your knees). This position will allow you to bend your knees more or less to make the activity easier or harder. When standing and holding your baby put your hands on his tummy and tilt him forward, away from your body. This will simulate a tummy time position and still promote holding his head up against gravity.
6. USE TOYS, BOOKS OR MIRRORS
This one may seem obvious, but when your baby is upset, sometimes even the simplest ideas slip your mind. If your baby is struggling with tolerating tummy time, try putting his favorite toys or books in front of him. Light up toys seem to work really well to keep baby entertained and distracted long enough to get through the activity. Have plenty of toys on hand so you can switch them out before baby gets bored and starts to fuss! You can even try putting a small mirror in front of baby so that he can look at himself. Seeing his face might be just the motivation he needs to hold his head up high!
7. GRAB A BALL
Medium or large balls make a great alternative to the floor when it comes to tummy time. Your baby will probably love to experience the movement of his body through space as you gently tilt the ball back and forth, side to side. You can be in front of baby and get some more face-to-face bonding time, or you can be behind baby and let him watch what else is going on in his environment.
Take your baby’s schedule into account when you are planning when to work on tummy time! For example, it might not be the best idea to put baby in tummy time right before a nap or mealtime. Your baby is hard wired to eat and sleep when his body says it’s time to eat or sleep. So, asking your baby to do hard strengthening activities close to those times will most likely only make baby (and you) more frustrated. Likewise, right after baby eats is probably not a good time either. You know your baby best, so you are the best one to figure out when to attempt tummy time. If you can try to do it around the same time every day, your baby will get used to that schedule.
9. BE CONSISTENT
It is completely normal for your baby to not like tummy time at first. It is a HARD activity—much like if I asked you to go to the gym after not working out for several months or years! One of the most important things to remember when working on tummy time is to be CONSISTENT! The first few times, your baby will probably be unhappy, but the more you do it, the easier it will get. Your baby will also start to realize that tummy time is just part of his regular, everyday routine and will give you less and less opposition. As he grows and develops, he will learn a lot of neat skills while on his tummy, such as rolling, pivoting, grabbing toys and crawling.
10. DON’T STRESS
This one is the most important of all—DON’T STRESS about your baby’s tummy time! It is so easy as parents to feel like you should be doing more for your baby, pushing them harder or pushing them less. If you are attempting tummy time with your baby everyday (or most days), then you are doing a great job! The more you do it, the easier it will be for both of you. Most importantly, when you feel stressed, your baby will feel stressed! If it helps, keep a log of how long your baby maintains tummy time, what method you used, and how he tolerated it. This will help you see his progress even when you feel like there isn’t any. Instead of looking at it as a time that you both dread, use tummy time as an opportunity to watch your baby learn and grow!