You may have heard that your baby needs tummy time. But what exactly is that? When and how do you start? How do you make it safe and enjoyable?
Tummy time is when your baby lies on her tummy as you supervise. It can help give her the strength and coordination to push up, roll over, sit up, crawl and pull up to stand. You may want to wait to start tummy time after her umbilical cord falls off. Otherwise, begin once she is comfortable.
It's important to remember that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all babies sleep on their backs through their first year of life, especially during the first six months when rates of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, are the highest. Back sleeping can decrease the risk of SIDS. Tummy time helps your baby's head stay round instead of developing a flat spot from sleeping on her back.
Because babies spend so much time on their backs, from their crib to their car seat to their swing, many little ones dislike spending time face-down. They may be miserable being on their bellies, and the whole tummy-time experience can be unenjoyable for baby and parent. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Follow these tips for a better tummy-time experience.
Work around her schedule. A hungry and tired baby isn't a happy baby. But, you also don't want your baby face-down on a fully stomach, because the pressure on her belly might cause her to spit up. Consider starting tummy time about an hour after feeding.
Incorporate it into your routine. Seamlessly weave tummy time into your baby's schedule so it doesn't feel like a chore. Try tummy time after you change a diaper, as you're applying lotion in the morning or evening, when you're drying her after a bath, or as you lay her across your lap to burp her. Just always be sure you're awake and able to supervise her on her belly.
Distract her. Break out all your tricks to keep her mind off being on her belly. Shake a rattle, talk, sing, play peek-a-boo or make funny faces.
Recruit help. As you supervise, a sibling can get down on the floor to distract baby. He'll likely have fun as he helps the baby with tummy time. Encourage visitors like friends or family to get on the floor during tummy time. Be sure any caregivers are on the same page.
Lift her up. Prop baby's upper body and arms over a nursing pillow or a rolled thin towel or receiving blanket. Put her arms over the "booster" and stretch her hands out in front of it. Be sure her airway isn't blocked by placing her chin in front of the booster and watch that her mouth and nose don't get blocked by the booster. The booster gives her a new way of seeing the world and that position may be more comfortable for her. You can also lay baby on your tummy or chest (while you're awake) so she's more at ease.
Bring out the props. Consider investing in a tummy-time gym. It's typically a colorful blanket or mat with hanging toys, music, lights or mirrors. Or, put an enticing toy or even yourself at arm's length or just beyond her reach to encourage her to grab for the toy or you. You can also place toys in a circle around her. Getting to different areas will promote muscle development.
Stimulate her senses. Use items in an array of colors and textures. Perhaps use a red fleece blanket one day and a blue cotton one the next. That way baby can touch and see various things.
Assess her cues. See what, if anything, is bothersome to your baby about tummy time. Maybe she's cold or hot. Perhaps the flooring isn't comfortable enough. Once you figure out those issues, adjust them.
Relax. If your baby starts crying, fussing or gets sleepy, don't force it, according to the Mayo Clinic. Her happiness is more important and she'll achieve this milestone when she's willing and ready. Pick her up, change her activity and try again later. Her tolerance will increase over time, especially once she gains strength to lift her head and neck and roll over. And she'll like it more as she gets additional practice.