Tummy Time as a Position for Play
Tummy time is an all too often misunderstand phenomena. Often when we talk of tummy time the image that comes to mind is us as parents simply placing baby, our baby on their tummy on the floor, or other hard surface and then expecting them to love it, but of course, they don’t so they cry to tell us so.
Imagine that you’re suddenly placed somewhere that doesn’t feel like somewhere you are used to and then you are unable to lift your head or adjust your position to see where you are, and what is going on around you. I know I wouldn’t find this a fun experience! As a young baby with undeveloped head/neck control, this is how it will likely feel to them too. Of course, an older baby who has good head control and who may also be propped up on their arms will likely be more tolerant of this position but on the whole, the younger baby, from my experiences as a parent and Paediatric Occupational Therapist would find this experience unsettling.
This is why we need to rethink tummy time. We need to understand why we are doing tummy time with our babies, and how we can practically do tummy time on a daily basis in a way that babies will enjoy.
So why do we need to do tummy time with our baby during their awake hours?
- When babies are in the womb they spend the first 9 months tucked up in a cosy, flexed position. This means once they are born they need to learn how to use their extensor muscles, or in other words, learn how to use their bodies up against gravity in extended postures. Tummy time or the prone position is a position that enables just this. Tummy time whilst baby is awake gives them the chance to recruit and strengthen their neck, back and core muscles – all the muscles that are crucial for later developmental milestones such as lifting the head, rolling, sitting, crawling, pulling to stand, standing and walking.
- Tummy time increases a baby’s sense of limb and joint awareness in relation to themselves and space (proprioceptive input) as well as their sense of head position and balance against gravity (vestibular input) which are essential skills required for smooth and co-ordinated movements in every task we complete, not just as babies but throughout childhood and into adulthood.
- Tummy time gives your baby a different view of the world and a chance to explore their senses in a new way which supports their cognitive skills, problem-solving skills, and visual perceptual skills.
- Tummy time supports your baby’s anatomy. It promotes the natural formation of the spine and prevents flat spots on the back of the head from spending long periods of time on their backs (supine position). As a baby, we all begin life with a C-shaped spine. It is through an extension of the spine that we develop the S-shaped curve that we see in children and adult spines. These curves are important as they allow us to be upright, maintain balance, have the flexibility of movement, and obtain natural shock absorbency.
How can we incorporate tummy time into our routine?
- Firstly, start thinking of tummy time as a position for play as opposed to an activity by itself; try doing something with your baby when they are in this position. It can be as simple as talking to them.
- Know that you can start tummy time from birth, which means your baby will learn very early on to use those muscles and be more likely to tolerate it for longer periods of time.
- Start off little and often and use your body! Placing them on your chest, across your lap, across your arm in a yoga hold known as ‘tiger in the tree’, or even use a baby sling.
- As they are more tolerant of time on their tummy, create a wedge or roll on the floor to support them across their chest and under their arms, ensuring airways are free.
- Get down on the floor with your baby – look in their eyes, talk, sing, clap, show them books, or other objects of interest that aren’t necessarily toys (but are safe for them to touch)
- Build it up and use lots of methods – Remember that 2 minutes of happy tummy time will go a long way to building their confidence – try to build up to 60 minutes a day but in a variety of ways
- Join a baby yoga class – baby yoga is a fantastic way to incorporate tummy time – there are lots of holds, asanas (poses) and movements that you can learn that give you many ideas for tummy time
- Respond to your baby and chose the right time to play – if your baby is relaxed, giving good eye contact, cooing and in a “quiet alert’ state then this is the best time for you to try tummy time. If they are hungry, fidgety, crying, avoiding eye contact, or generally upset then they are telling you that they’re not in the mood for this so give them what they need and enjoy cuddles instead, finding another time to bring tummy time to their day.
Love Carly xx
Blossom and Berry Team
- Wittmeir., K. Mulder. Time to revisit Tummy time: a commentary on plagiocephaly and development Paediatric and Child Health (2017) 159-161
- M. Graham. Tummy Time is Important. Clinical Paediatrics. (2006); 45:119-121
- T.Jennings, B.G.Sarbaugh., N.S.Payne. Conveying the Message about optimal infant positions. Physical and Occupational Therapy in Pediatrics.(2005) 25(3):3-18