The do's and don'ts of tummy time

Kinderling News & Features

Tummy time is touted as one of the most important activities for a young baby's development. We know we have to do it, but why? And how much is enough? Is there a way to make tummy time enjoyable for even the grizzliest of bubs?

Debbie Evans is a senior paediatric physiotherapist at Therapies for Kids. She says that if we think about tummy time as something that takes practice and attention, babies can get the most out of it.

Start tummy time from birth

Debbie believes that babies should be practicing tummy time right from birth, though obviously, she adds, not when they're asleep!
"They need to be supervised," Debbie offers, "but babies have a variety of positions [they can lie in]; side, lying on their back, in your arms, and on their tummy. They can be carried on their tummy from birth. They can sleep on their tummy, on you, … between breasts." Debbie recommends that you start by changing up positions when swapping breasts in a feed. "Lay them on your tummy, lay them on your lap, on their tummy on a rug on the floor, on your big double bed in the middle of it while you grab a nappy (this is the first month, don't do that for much further on)."

Listen to Debbie on Kinderling Conversation

Is it necessary?

We know that tummy time is important, but why do we do it? The first reason is it ensures your little one is strengthening their bodies by both lifting and turning their head. Debbie explains that as soon as a baby is born we need to stretch them out during tummy time because they're used to having their arms and legs tucked up and curled up in utero. "Laying on your tummy allows you to stretch out … To stretch the muscles at the front of your hips, to develop the muscles at the back of your hips and up your spine. It allows baby to start to learn to get their arms out from their body because they are usually tucked in … Once [the arms] come out then they come forward and you can start lifting your head. So by the second month babies should be able to lift their head to 45 degrees, bob around and look at something."

Take it one head bob at a time

By placing them tummy down on a flat surface a baby can concentrate solely on trying to lift and move their head. When they're upright or held in a seated position they have to concentrate on a whole group of other muscles that they aren’t strong enough to control yet. It's all about the baby steps when it comes to tummy time Debbie says.

Try to make tummy time visually stimulating

Think for a moment what tummy time is like for a small baby. If you were placed on your belly with nothing to do, you’d get bored too. Debbie says that getting the most out of tummy time comes down to two things, practice, and visual stimulation (so they don’t get bored!)
To make it stimulating Debbie recommends having tummy time on a surface where you can kneel in front of them so they can see you. Surfaces like the change table or bed are ideal, and just laying them on your lap isn’t the best developmentally.
"Faces are essentially black and white to a baby and they are seeing these from birth. So, give them the visual stimulation because what we call optical writings start to develop from birth." These optical writings are what babies use to develop facial recognition and learn how to read faces.

Practice makes perfect

A common comment when trying out tummy time is that your baby can be grumpy and cry. If there are no sinister medical reasons for this, Debbie reminds us that everyone, young and old, tends to get grumpy when we try something for the first time and aren’t very good at it. "Babies are creatures of habit like we all are. So you might have a child that has had reflux ... or  just hasn't been put on their tummies before so their response naturally is 'No I don't like it.'"If your baby cries during tummy time Debbie recommends gradually building up the amount of time you spend practicing every day. Start small, just five minutes and then build up, just like going to the gym. If you only go to the gym once every few months you're going to hate it. It's exactly the same for babies if they only practice tummy time once a day.

"You've got to practice something to make it grow " Debbie reminds us. "They will cry. But we are allowed to let babies cry … It is a way of talking to us and saying 'Mum or Dad I don't like that'. Our response as parents should be 'Yeah I know that Honey but let's just do it a little bit longer. I'll just pat your bottom and I'll wave a rattle and I'll talk to you and I won't get upset about it because I know you're okay.'" Debbie concludes.

So go on, get tummy-timing!