Supervised tummy time is important for a baby's physical development. Tummy time also allows your baby to visually explore the environment in a new way. When positioned on their back, they can see only the ceiling and whatever is directly around them. But on their stomach, they use their muscles to lift their head and see the world at eye level, giving them a completely different view of the world—a new perspective!
If your baby doesn't tolerate tummy time—and even if they do—these activities can make it fun:
Activity #1: Tummy to Tummy
It's a good idea to begin exposing your baby to tummy time while you're both still in the hospital. The earlier you start, the more likely your baby will accept the stomach as a natural position. In fact, before the umbilical cord has fallen off, you can position your newborn on your stomach or chest while you are awake and in a reclined position on a chair, bed or floor (with a pillow to support your head), tummy to tummy with baby.
Take this perfect opportunity to socialize with your newborn and encourage lots of eye contact. Talk in animated tones and use exaggerated expressions to get them to look at you. It's a special time to bond tummy to tummy.
Activity #2: Lap Time
You can also position your baby tummy down across your lap lengthwise while providing head support. Remember to keep their head aligned with their body. If they fall asleep in that position, just transfer them to the bed (but place them down to sleep on their back). For more stimulation, slowly raise and lower your legs at the same time, then move them slowly from side to side. This motion will likely calm your little one.
An important reminder to supervise tummy time
Once your baby starts participating in tummy time, be sure to provide supervision. In this world of distractions, your phone will ring or you'll get called to another room. Just remember to stay with your baby to avoid suffocation.
Activity #3: Side lying with support
Side lying is a great alternative to tummy time if your baby doesn't tolerate being on their stomach. Place your baby on a blanket on their side; if needed, prop their back against a rolled-up towel for support. If their head needs support, place a small, folded washcloth under their head. Both of baby's arms should be in front of them, and you should bring their legs forward at the hips and bend their knees to make them comfortable.
Don't forget to distract your baby with a fun toy or read them an entertaining book while they're in this position. It is best to set up a regular time for tummy time and side lying, such as after naps, baths or diaper changes. Just be sure to have a plan in place and take care to vary your baby's position every 10 to 15 minutes during playtime.
Tummy time & babies with special health care needs
If your baby was born premature
or has reflux disease
or special needs, speak with your child's pediatrician about tummy time. Some babies need special consideration.
More tummy-time tips to keep in mind
- Think about textures. Babies need to be exposed to a variety of textures throughout the day, and tummy time is the perfect opportunity to accomplish this. When your baby is on their tummy, the skin on their stomach, legs, arms and face touches the surface on which they are lying. The most natural place to play is on a clean floor, a nap mat or blankets of different textures. (Note: Blankets should be secured so they don't slide around when baby moves their arms or legs.) As they move their body, arms and legs against the surface, the friction that is created lets them know where their body is located in space.
- Dress down. Also, your baby will gain strength and flexibility during tummy time. Dressing your little one in an infant body suit or "onesie" for tummy time allows them to feel the various textures on their arms and legs. Better yet, if their room is warm enough, just dress them in a diaper!
Strive to expose your baby to a variety of positions throughout the day, including time spent in your arms and on your lap. Remember, babies crave emotional interaction and connection with their parents.