How many times have you heard the magical buzzwords “TUMMY TIME” as you transitioned to motherhood? If you had a nickel, amiright? Had you ever even heard that phrase once before becoming a mother?
But let me ask you another question… what's the follow up after someone asks? A whole lotta nothing has been my experience, even from the pediatrician! Mine asked about it, told me to do it, but offered no further explanation about how to do it or even why it’s so important.
As frustrating as that is for me as a Pediatric Physical Therapist, I can’t blame them. Simply put; pediatricians aren't gross motor experts and we wouldn’t want them to be because they need that brain space to cover many other issues and keep your sweet little babe medically healthy! So… who is responsible for keeping a baby developmentally on track? Before they get to school age, it’s unfortunately all up to parents. But also know you're not alone and we're here to help!
I believe the best way to learn and follow through with something new is to first understand why that new and unfamiliar thing is so important. Knowing the why makes the how much easier to embrace.
Why is tummy time so important?
Tummy time sets the foundation for all the other milestones ahead. This includes gross motor (like rolling, sitting, crawling and walking), fine motor (writing, manipulating objects, strengthening neck and shoulder muscles important for postural control) and even speech and eating. Tummy time offers countless benefits, but I want to emphasize a few more that are especially important: sensory integration, coordination, digestive support, hip and shoulder girdle development, visual motor skills, tongue control, swallowing, and sleep quality.
Why does my baby hate it?
Let’s be real - tummy time is HARD WORK! It may not look like much to us adults but it’s basically a baby workout and as I’m sure you know, workouts aren’t always fun. But just like your workouts, the more they do it, the stronger they will get and ultimately the more they will enjoy it :)
Reframing tummy time
Tummy time shouldn’t be torturous for either of you, and you can actually start working on it from day one with your little love. It’s important to reframe your vision of what tummy time looks like, it’s not just putting your baby down on the floor and hoping for the best. Instead, look at it as a sweet bonding and interactive playtime for the two of you. It typically starts out looking like skin-to-skin while you’re sitting in the recliner and then as you build a routine and tolerance, you bring in more positions and toys!
My 3 Tummy Time Tips
1. Short, but frequent sessions
Put simply, you need to build tummy time into your schedule. I know it seems overwhelming, but once it’s a habit you won’t even worry about it anymore, it’ll become a fun part of your day. My favorite tip is to flip babe over on their belly after each diaper change! Even if you do it for just one minute each time, that's 9-12 minutes easy (working up to at least 30 minutes is recommended). You can also do it after each bath and after each feeding or burping by reclining back and holding baby on your chest for some the snuggliest version! Do you see how short frequent sessions can quickly build up to that 30 minute recommendation? If it feels too hard, then start smaller. You got this!
2. If you’re feeling stuck, change it up
This is as simple as it sounds! There are SO MANY ways to get baby on their belly without any props. You can hold them on their belly in your arms, place them on your thighs with knees up (babe’s head is towards knees), on your shins lifted in the air like a modified airplane, or even over your calf while you’re seated on the floor.
3. Modify, modify, modify
This is my top tip. Just make sure those little arms are tucked underneath their body, which allows them to recruit as many muscles as possible to lift their head up, making each attempt more effective!
So my sleep deprived momma, here’s the big takeaway: tummy time is an important foundational skill but it can also be frustrating. Start with the basics to build tolerance with the tips above and create a habit around purposeful play with your baby. You’ll be cruising through motor milestones before you know it.
About the expert: Dr. Alyssa Whitfield is a Pediatric Physical Therapist and entrepreneur. She is the creator and owner of Move to Learn PT; a practice with the intention of promoting gross motor skills from birth to improve and facilitate learning. www.movetolearnpt.com