The most important of your babys milestones, tummy time has a huge positive impact on your childs development and can improve their disposition, comfort and well-being. Through tummy time, your baby will be able to breathe deeper, allowing them a deeper sense of overall relaxation. It will allow your baby to digest their food better, prevent your baby from developing a flat head and also help with their development, flexibility and muscle tone as they gradually prepare for sitting and standing properly later on.
As a learned skill, rather than an instinctive one, it is up to us, the parents, to learn how to enable our baby to open up into the tummy time position and encourage this new found skill in a safe, enjoyable way. Tummy time exploration can begin from birth, so it is up to us to open up our little ones from their foetal positions and prepare them for their first stretch. Here are 20 pointers to help make awake belly time all the more fun, for you and your baby.
The sooner you begin your babys belly training, the better. Its a wonderful opportunity to introduce your baby to the wonders of their new life, so don’t feel nervous. To help relieve physiological flexion in your newborn baby and give them that first crucial stretch to enable safe tummy time, follow 4 easy steps to encourage your baby to open up, help make friends with gravity and allow baby to lay comfortably on their belly:
Sit baby up on your thigh and support using your forearm under your babys arm. With the baby leaning forward, their arms extended over yours, gently rock whilst stroking your babys head and spine. Next, place baby lying belly forward on one thigh, their arms outstretched over the thigh. Gently rock the your leg as you continue to stroke and rub the babys back, spine and shoulders. Next, with your babys arms and legs extended over both of your thighs, rock gently and continue to stroke. Lastly, gently massage your babys arms forward and once baby tries to lift their head you can begin to introduce short period of supervised tummy time.
TIGER IN THE TREE
This incredible hold will make the most fractious moments in your day so much calmer. This hold allows your baby to feel completely secure, whilst giving you access to their belly to massage and manipulate in order to relax your baby. By establishing this as a regular holding position you will also encourage baby to feel more comfortable in the ‘Superman’ position.
Any time you baby lies on your chest you are encouraging them to become more comfortable on their front. Sleep or awake, it all makes a huge difference. Long gone are the days where it was said that you would be ‘spoiling’ your baby if you held them too much (thank god!) So cuddle that precious baby as much as you possibly can. Let them sleep on your chest, snuggled under your neck. This time for quiet cuddles won’t last forever! Know that every single embrace is helping your baby become more comfortable on their belly.
From birth up until your baby is strong in their tummy time position, you should always use either a rolled up towel or nursing cushion under their armpits to support your baby from underneath. This way they can sit in this position in complete comfort, for short periods of time and begin to strengthen their head, neck, shoulders and core as they explore on their belly and see the world from a new, exciting perspective.
Particularly within the first 3 months, your baby will be trying to gain control of their head as they practice this skill, so always use your hand to support from behind, by placing a relaxed hand flat on their shoulders and between their shoulder blades. This will give the baby a buffer to work against, making it easier to lift the head. Once they have built up their strength and start to lift their head and cheat higher, place your hand on their upper, then lower back as they building the strength to hold themselves up on their own.
TIME OF DAY
Try not to attempt tummy time practice when your baby is already unsettled or fractious. Also, if they have had a big feed they can become unsettled on their front. Tummy time should always be done at the best times of the day when your baby is happy and content. As soon as they become unsettled, stop tummy time and give them lots of cuddles.
TAKE IT SLOW
If your baby doesn’t like staying on their belly for an extended amount of time, give her very short experiences, using the support and stimualtion tricks above and introduce them to the activity gradually and for short period at a time. Build slowly from there.
If your baby is struggling on their tummy, due to discomfort, etc, consider lying them down on their side. A great alternative to tummy time, place your baby on a blanket on their side. Support baby from behind using a rolled towel at their back. Allow their arms and legs to be in front of them and play with baby in this position. While side lying may not give the same kind of strength training as belly-down play, it allows for important position changes and supports development and motor skills in other ways.
A good way to get tummy time into your routine is by sitting on the floor with your back against a wall or seat. Have your legs bent on the floor with baby lying down comfortably on your upper thighs. Use your hands to gently stroke and rub baby up and down to get them relaxed. When the baby is content, gently lower your legs a bit. Allow your baby to adjust and get comfortable. If your baby is happy, continue to lower until you legs are flat on the floor and your baby is fully flat doing tummy time. Keep their airways clear and continue to stroke them. They usually fall straight to sleep in this position which is always a bonus!
Having something in front of the baby that makes a sound and is good to look at and explore can really help encourage them too. It doesn’t have be an expensive toy either. Food packets, bells, instruments, fairy lights, a wrapper…..as long as they can’t put it in their mouths, they will love it.
In the first year of your babys life there are limitations in their vision and they respond well to simple, bold patterns with high contrast. So black and white is particularly important, especially in the first 5 months. Using monochrome books, scarves, muslins or play mats will really help stimulate your baby whilst they are practicing their awake tummy time. Etta Loves is a great company that produce beautifully patterned baby mats, wash cloths and muslins that will have your baby transfixed from birth and serve as a great tool for tummy time practice. (DILAM clients also get a cheeky discount too-win win!)
Babies love a bit of texture to explore with their body. Try placing your baby on a simple soft surface, such as one of those lovely soft blankets you were more than likely gifted. Or even a sheepskin. Your baby will be able to enjoy its texture by moving their arms and legs all over it. Also try dressing your baby in a onesie with their legs uncovered (make sure the room is warm enough) so they can have a stimulating tactile experience whilst exploring on their bellys.
ADULT FLOOR WORK
Getting down on the floor with your little one is a great way to make tummy time more fun and interactive. Join your baby on the floor and encourage them with talking or singing, by shaking a rattle or making silly faces. Play peekaboo or stick your legs in the air. You baby already thinks you are the greatest person in the world, so show them how much fun you can be.
Get some skin to akin action in by lying down on the floor or in the bath and have your baby awake, in tummy time lying on your chest. It’s the perfect excuse to do some close up connection work with your bubba. Use this opportunity to look into their eyes, imprint their little faces on your memory, stare at each other, laugh, sing, talk, babble or trace their faces with your fingers. Your baby will love it and the extra skin time together will promote secure bonding and attachment for both.
This move is a classic and one we will all be familiar with. I have so many happy memories playing this with my mum when I was little and now my own children are huge fans. From 5 months you can play ‘airplanes’ with your baby by lying on the floor, your legs bent in the air and lying baby across facing you. They will love their new view and this fun game will keep their tummy time exploration interesting and fun. Plus its a good little home workout for you too!
This age old game is another classic that never gets old. Get your baby comfortable on your bed on their tummy, then get down on the floor to interact and play peekaboo. So much fun and this is bound to get you baby giggling.
t’s time to get any siblings involved! Encouraging your other children to get down and play with the baby will have a huge impact on your babys tummy time development, as well as allowing siblings to be a part of the fun. Having an older brother or sister on the floor, talking, singing, playing and pulling faces will have your baby transfixed is a beautiful scene to behold!
Using a sling not only has a positive impact on our parenting journeys, allowing us to have close contact with our baby whilst leaving our arms free (YIPPEE!) They are also a great tool to use to promote tummy time. They offer a great way for your baby to make friends with gravity and encourage them to open up their body from the foetal position. The babys position in a sling in similar to when they’re lying skin-to-skin, or on your chest. We have a plethora of slings and carriers at our HQ and the INCREDIBLE Lizzie Start is our sling consultant and owner of the Sling Library. She can assist everyone in finding the perfect sling for you and your needs.
Touch is your babys first universal language and one we can use to communicate with our little ones. By using touch to make your baby feel safe, secure, loved, cherished and wanted we can help our babys grow into happy, content children. When they are practising their tummy time, use your hands, leading with the palms and following through to your fingers to stroke down their body, their head and spine, over their hips and bottom and down their legs. Massage their backs with hand-over-hand strokes and continue to talk to them, kiss them or interact with whatever they are exploring. They will love the physical contact and it is therapeutic for both of you.
The last thing you need is to feel stressed or frustrated if your baby really dislikes tummy time. Getting upset will only make it all the more stressful for you both. It’s meant to be a fun thing you can do together and as a family. It should not feel like hard work. You may be following all these tips and doing everything right, but your baby just doesn’t like being placed on their tummy. Listen! That’s ok too. Babies who refuse tummy time still grow up happy, healthy and able to sit up, crawl, and walk, just like their peers. Remember, if its not enjoyable for you both DON’T DO IT!!