If you’re a new parent, you’ll have probably been advised by your midwife or Health Visitor to give your baby plenty of ‘tummy time’. But what IS tummy time, exactly? How do you do it, and why is it so important?
What is tummy time?
Tummy time refers to the practice of allowing your baby to spend some time on their tummy whilst awake and under your (or another adult’s) supervision. We emphasise the fact that your baby needs to be awake, as, for safety reasons, your baby always needs to be placed on their back when sleeping or about to go to sleep.
Why is tummy time important?
When your baby is on their stomach, you may notice that they try and push their head up high, so they can see better. This allows their head, neck, and shoulder muscles to effectively get some exercise and get a little stronger, so when the time is right, your baby will be able to hold their head up, sit upright, and eventually walk.
But it’s not just that they get exercise – let’s not underestimate the stimulation factor! Imagine lying on your bed, on your back, for most of the day. Imagine your vision not being 100% either, so all you can see is blurred shadows around you. That could get a bit boring after a while, couldn’t it? Just like we like a change of scenery and perspective, so does your baby. Imagine how much more entertaining it would be to lie on a colourful mat on the floor, looking at some bright-coloured or black-and-white toys. For a very young baby, tummy time equals play time!
How do you do it?
Giving your baby tummy time doesn’t need to be complicated – grab a nice, soft mat, towel, or blanket, and place it on the floor. You’ll then gently place your baby on top of it, on their tummy. For safety reasons, always make sure you use the floor, rather than another raised surface, like a changing table or a dining table. Even if you’re supervising your baby at all times, you never know when your baby decides to start rolling, and you don’t want to be in a position to have to catch them.
Pop a few toys in front of them, or even better, get onto the floor with them if you can, and just interact with them. It’s a great way for you two to bond and to let them explore your face from a different perspective! You may even get a smile or two!
You might also want to rest your baby on their tummy over your thighs or on your chest!
What age should you start tummy time?
You can start doing tummy time with your baby from the day they’re born. Just be mindful of the fact that your baby may find all this exercise exhausting (and quite rightly so), so be sure to keep a close eye on them for signs of tiredness or fatigue. If they start crying or struggling and have had enough, it’s time to give them a break and a nice cuddle!
How long should you do it for?
Realistically, when they are very little, you can aim for about 3-5 minutes, 2 or 3 times a day, but always let yourself be led by your baby. As your baby gets older and stronger, they will be able to enjoy tummy time for longer stretches, and you can work your way up until you reach about a total of 40-60 minutes of tummy time per day (at different times).
What if they really don’t like it?
As we said, if your baby doesn’t seem to enjoy tummy time, don’t force it. Even if all you achieve is a minute or two, that’s great. You can follow your baby’s lead and increase the time as they feel ready to do so.
However, there are a couple of things you can try to make it a little more entertaining for your baby.
- Think about why they might not like it. Are they uncomfortable? Is this the right time to be doing this? Could they be hungry, hot/cold, in need of a nappy change, or too tired, for example? If they are unsettled for any reason, it’s probably best to try at another time.
- If you’re sure that they are settled, but they’re still not happy, it might be that they may not like the idea of not seeing you, so placing your face in front of theirs may be just what they need. You can even try using a toy, or a plastic mirror, so they can look at their own face! They won’t know they’re looking at a reflection of themselves, so they’ll like the idea of another baby pulling faces at them!
- Or maybe they’re just missing you, even if you’re right there! You can give your baby tummy time when you’re lying down by positioning your baby on your own chest (always ensuring that you hold them while doing so), or over your thighs. They can still exercise their muscles and experience that sensation of physical closeness that they’re so used to from months and months inside Mummy’s tummy!
- Baby is still not happy? Well, try and sing and song then – your voice is probably the most soothing sound they know!
And if you want to make it even more fun for yourself and your baby, why not join a class full of like-minded parents with babies of a similar age to yours? Our BabyNatal Developmental Baby Massage classes are available across the UK and are suitable from birth. These 5-week courses are designed to support your baby’s development whilst remaining baby-led and flexible, caring for you and your baby’s individual needs. Find out more about our classes here.
So, do you feel more confident about giving your baby some tummy time? Do you have any questions? Or any tips to share?