Defined: Tummy Time

Movement therapist Ellynne Skove of Brooklyn’s GoGo Babies tells us all we need to know about this “Tummy Time” you keep hearing about.

Defined: Tummy Time

More and more pediatricians now recommend babies sleep on their backs to prevent SIDS. While this practice is suggested for safety and health, many babies are also missing out on crucial awake hours of tummy time due to the habit of placing babies on their backs. Babies are already on their backs in strollers, car seats, bouncy seats and in many cases, play gyms. There are so many important reasons to give your baby more tummy time -- or time spent lying on her stomach. Whether you place baby’s tummy on a flat surface, in a good baby carrier facing inwards, or even belly-down in a loved one’s arms, here are a few reasons you might want to incorporate tummy time into your newborn’s daily routine.

Why is tummy time important?

First, tummy time prevents the flattening of the head that can occur when a baby spends too much time lying on her back. But it also gives the baby opportunities to progress in the natural blueprint of movement sequences that enable her to sit up and later stand in the vertical position. Tummy time helps develop the spinal curves and muscle strength needed to move onto all fours and begin balancing. This leads to Developmental Movement Patterns -- creeping, crawling, sitting, scooting, standing and walking upright. Without these movements, the brain does not achieve its full opportunity to develop the corpus colosum, which enables the right and left hemispheres to transmit information between one another. The Developmental Movement Patterns are like a big puzzle. Babies find varying ways to put them together as they move to standing vertically. Genetics, environment and opportunities for activity also play a role in how quickly a baby will move through these patterns.

How soon can a new parent begin tummy time with their newborn?

You can begin placing your baby on her belly on a flat surface as soon as the umbilical cord has fallen off. Newborns will begin by rooting around with their heads and work towards lifting their heads. Tummy time actually begins the moment you hold your baby in your arms, and by using a good baby carrier to wear your baby.

How long should tummy time last?

Try to work up to about 30-40 minutes a day, which can be spread throughout her waking hours.

What are some Tummy Time tips?

Try different surfaces to see which one your baby is most comfortable on. The bed, floor, a soft sheepskin mat, the changing table and even your chest and belly are all different kinds of surfaces to explore. Diaper changing time is a great opportunity to add in some tummy time and play. This happens multiple times in a day so it could become a routine part of diapering. Expect it to be a struggle at first. In fact, the best way to help your newborn with tummy time is to wear her in a good front carrier or baby wrap. And of course, carrying your baby in your arms is a wonderful way for her to feel your heart next to hers while she tries to push her belly into you to lift her head. Do not expect a newborn to do this much. It’s a process of building! During tummy time talk, sing and play with your baby. Use toys, scarves and instruments to keep baby engaged. This is a great bonding time for baby and caregivers! Do it a little at a time and keep building it up over time.

What if the baby fusses during Tummy Time?

Many parents tell me their babies don’t like tummy time. While it is true that many babies will struggle and fuss during tummy time early on, this is not a reason to stop doing it. There are reasons why she’s struggling and fussing. First, consider that the baby spent its first nine months of life in the liquid floating space of the womb. The world of gravity is a real surprise after a life of floating! Second, during infancy, the head is the biggest and heaviest part of the body. It is bigger than the baby’s bottom! Imagine if your head was bigger than your bottom! It would be a struggle to lift your head up too wouldn’t it? Third, the baby’s spine has minimal curves when she’s born. The Developmental Movement Patterns help to develop those curves, which create the foundation and architecture for the body to stand up.

All of this requires a lot of effort and work for the baby. It is a bit like adults hitting the gym after a long period of not working out. Afterwards, our bodies ache, and during, it is often a push to stick with it. It is the same for babies. Whatever you do, don’t make up your baby’s mind up about whether she likes it or not. Babies are intelligent and pick up everything you do and say. You don’t want to inadvertently set a negative precedent.

So how do you suggest helping baby along?

Babies change and grow constantly. If your baby is struggling, you can ease this somewhat by using a nursing pillow or small blanket roll under the baby’s chest. Give your baby a chance to keep trying. Don’t push it to frenzy. See what your baby’s edge is and then stop. If your baby cries at a level of true discomfort, then stop and soothe her. Resume carrying your baby or wearing your baby. It is important to carry your baby facing inwards in a carrier until you are sure your baby can really hold her head up well. Baby needs the support of his belly pushing against you while wearing a carrier to work on holding up his head! Facing a baby out too soon can cause distress to the spine.

You don’t need to hurry things. Let your baby’s innate intelligence guide you. Become a good observer! Bonding with your baby through tummy time. Resting on your own tummy next to or opposite your baby is a wonderful way to model relaxation, full breathing and playfulness. It gives you the chance to view the world from your baby’s perspective. Let your mind calm and tune into the senses that motivate your baby’s curiosity: sight, smell, touch, sound and movement. Connect with your baby’s experiences and enjoy the break from your hard-working mind!

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