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Tummy Time: Easy Ways to Make it Fun!

We hear over and over again how important tummy time is, from our maternal child health nurse, family doctor, media, play groups, mothers’ group… the list goes on. But why is it so important and what do we do when all efforts are met with protests?

The first thing to remember is that there are lots of incidental ways your baby can do tummy time that we often forget to count as tummy time. Tummy time does not just equal the time when your baby is flat on their belly on a play mat. The time that you are carrying them over your shoulder, or have them ‘superman style’ over your arm or lying on your chest when you’re reclined in a chair, are all versions of tummy time. So rest assured, there are ways to do tummy time that even your baby won’t notice!

So why is tummy time so important?

Tummy time is important for building up your baby’s neck, shoulder, arm and back muscles. It helps your baby learn to hold their head up and develop their movement skills for later development, such as rolling and sitting.

Tummy time also provides a different view of the world for your baby and a chance to observe and interact with their environment in a different way to lying on their back or being carried in your arms.

Tummy time will also reduce the chance of developing a flat spot on the back or side of their head. However, remember that tummy time is only for when your baby is awake, in accordance with Safe Sleeping Guidelines.

How early can my baby start tummy time?

Your baby can start tummy time when they are a newborn. It’s helpful to introduce it early to make it part of their daily routine. Start with 1-2 minutes a few times a day when your baby is awake and happy, and try to build this up slowly. Remember to always supervise your baby when they're on their tummy.

Here are a few ways to start tummy time with your newborn:

  • Lie your baby on your chest when you’re reclined on the couch or in a chair

  • Carry your baby over your shoulder

  • Place your baby over your lap

  • Carry your baby in the ‘superman position’ with their face down, your arm between their legs and hand under their belly

These positions are versions of tummy time for newborns that will help your baby feel safe and secure, close to you, warm and able to smell you, so they can start to build up their muscle strength before trying tummy time on a play mat.

6 easy tips to make tummy time fun!

There are simple ways to make tummy time a little easier and more fun for your bub! Babies instinctively want to lift their head to look around, and become easily frustrated if they can’t. In the first few weeks, babies may only tolerate 1-2 minutes and become tired quickly. Start tummy time in short bursts and stop before they become unsettled. This time will slowly increase.

  1. Timing is everything! Try to pick a time when your bub is happy. If they’re full of milk, tired or hungry, they will likely protest and not enjoy tummy time.

  2. Check your set-up. Place your baby on a firm surface, like a play mat on the floor or a firm mattress.

  3. Help to position your baby’s elbows under their chest and place a hand on their bottom or stroke their back for stability and comfort.

  4. Make sure your bub has something interesting to look at. A fun toy or a non-breakable mirror are good options.

  1. Get down to the level of your baby. Seeing your face and knowing that you’re close by is motivation for your baby to lift their head. You can talk and sing to them to make it even more fun!

  1. If these ideas aren’t working, you can try placing a rolled cloth nappy or hand towel under their armpits and chest to support them more. This can make lifting their head easier. You can also try putting them over your lap, on your chest or over a large exercise ball to see if they like these positions more.

When will my baby be more active in tummy time?

Don’t be disheartened if your bub doesn’t like tummy time for a while. Before you know it, they will prefer to be on their tummy, rolling over at every opportunity and you won’t be able to keep them on their back for nappy changes!

  • 2 to 3 months old: babies should be getting more comfortable on their tummy if they get lots of opportunities, spending 10 to 15 minutes at a time on their tummy, propping on their arms and lifting their head to look around.

  • 4 to 5 months: babies start to prop on straight arms, play with a small toy within their reach. By 5 months they may start to pivot from side to side on their tummy.

  • 6 months: babies start to transfer weight to one arm to reach out for a toy with their opposite arm. Where you place them on the play mat will not be where they end up; they will pivot on the spot and try to push backwards with their arms or even start to try to commando crawl (crawl on their tummy). 6 month old babies will prefer to be on their bellies because they can play and move around more easily.

If you need more ideas for how to make tummy time easier, good people to speak to are your maternal child health nurse or a paediatric physiotherapist.

Thank you for reading. If you need, I'm only an email or phone call away. Wishing you the best,

Francyne Finlayson Paediatric Physiotherapist Physiotherapy of Children

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