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Tummy Time for Babies: What Is It, When to Start, and More

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If you’ve just had or are expecting your first baby, then we’re sure you’ve read countless parenting books, listened to multiple podcasts, and have been given many pieces of advice from family and friends. With new sleep schedules to learn about, not to mention understanding the mental leaps your baby will experience in its first year, all this new information can be completely and utterly overwhelming. If this is how you’re feeling, we’re here to tell you that you’re not alone. 

One activity that many professionals recommend for babies is tummy time, but how should this activity be added to a daily routine and how can parents know if their child is enjoying it? In this first-time parents guide to tummy time, we’ll explain what it is, why it’s beneficial when you should be thinking of starting tummy time, and much more. 

A Parent’s Guide to Tummy Time: What is it? 

Tummy time involves a parent placing a baby on their stomach to play. This encourages your baby to develop gross motor skills such as lifting their head up, moving their arms and legs, and being able to put weight on their arms. Tummy time essentially helps babies to develop the muscles they need to hit major developmental milestones – crawling, rolling over, sitting up, and walking. 

Many babies hate tummy time at first, while others enjoy the new perspective and coo happily. If your child has a tendency to cry, fuss, or bellow their displeasure of being put in an awkward face-plank position this doesn’t mean that tummy time isn’t working. It simply means that they need time to adjust. 

Regardless of how your baby reacts, tummy time is worth it. As well as allowing children to boost their gross motor skills, this activity offers the following benefits: 

  • Provides an opportunity for parents and babies to bond
  • Engages a baby’s lesser-used muscle groups
  • Promotes head control and prevents flat spots from forming on a child’s head
  • Improves cardiovascular health, body mass index, and digestion

Common Tummy Time Questions All Parents Ask 

Now that you have a better grasp on why it’s important for your baby to spend time on their belly, let’s look at a handful of the most common questions that first-time parents ask about their newborn’s tummy time. 

When Should My Newborn Start?

While there is no ideal timeframe to introduce your newborn baby to this form of play, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents do it as early as possible. In fact, if you had a full-term pregnancy and your baby has no health issues you can start from the moment you bring your new baby home from the hospital. 

It is best to incorporate tummy time activities as part of your daily routine when your baby is alert and awake. Perhaps straight after a daily diaper change when you can get down on the floor with them and supervise their progress. After all, this is a great bonding exercise for you as a parent too. 

How Long Should Tummy Time Last?

The key is to start off with short sessions multiple times a day. Place your baby belly-down on either your chest or your lap for up to two minutes at a time at least three times a day. As they get older and become more comfortable with spending time on their stomach, increase the length of the activity. 

By two months old, your baby should be spending at least 5 minutes on their stomach playing per tummy time session. At four months, you should notice tummy time paying off if your child can lift their chest up off the floor, arch their back, or kick their feet. Ideally, every parent should be aiming to dedicate between 15 minutes and 30 minutes each day to tummy time. 

Is There a Right Way to Do This Activity?

Newborn tummy time should always be spent in a soft and safe place. Ideally, a tummy time mat or a blanket should be placed on a flat surface, e.g. the floor where your baby can lie down on their stomach surrounded by a few toys or stuffed animals. Otherwise, this activity can be carried out on your lap or your chest. Just make sure that neither you nor your baby falls asleep. 

How Can I Make Sure My Baby’s Engaged During Tummy Time?

Just laying your child down on their stomach isn’t always going to be enough to keep them stimulated and entertained – especially if tummy time isn’t a favorite activity of theirs. Instead, you need to make it exciting with some tummy time activities such as: 

  • Get down on the same level: By lying down on the floor with them and talking to them either face-to-face or side-by-side distracts your child as they build up strength in their arms, legs, and neck. 
  • Tempt your child with toys: Spread colorful stuffed animals and toys around your baby in a circle but just out of reach. Enticing your baby with toys will encourage them to stay focused on the task at hand while prompting them to use various muscle groups. 
  • Prop them up with pillows: If your child can’t tolerate being on their stomach for too long, try propping your baby up with a towel or nursing pillow just under the chest and arms. This will encourage them to exercise their neck muscles while also helping them get used to staying on their belly. 
  • Place a mirror in front of them: Try placing an unbreakable mirror in front of your baby and let them admire themselves. Vary the position so that it encourages your child to lift up their head and turn it from side to side. 

These tummy time options won’t always result in your child being thrilled or happy. If your baby is struggling with spending long periods of time on their stomach, taking a breather is ok. Skip this activity for a few days. Your child will always communicate to you when they need to take a break, and when they are ready to try again. 

Alternatives to Tummy Time: What to Do If Your Child Hates It

If after multiple attempts your baby is adamant that they do not want to spend one minute more in any position but their back or being held up by you, there are alternatives to tummy time that you can try instead. Don’t worry, your child won’t miss out on any baby development milestones. These alternatives are just as beneficial. 

Instead of laying them down on their tummy, place your child on their side with their arms in front of them and support them with a rolled-up towel or blanket. Switching the side that they lie on will encourage them to utilize muscles on both sides of their body. If it is the sensation of being on a flat surface that is off-putting to your child, lay them down on your tummy instead. Tummy-to-tummy time is just as effective. 

Another alternative is carrying your baby face down in your arms. Use your arms and hands to support their chest and then sway them from side to side. This allows your baby to feel close to you while also providing a safe way for them to build upper-body muscles. 

How Vivvi Supports Early Childhood Developmental Milestones 

At Vivvi, our early learning teachers ensure that your baby is receiving the support they need to reach vital developmental milestones. From as early as six weeks old, the Vivvi Learning Model incorporates activities that are aimed at improving your baby’s gross and fine motor skills, social skills, language skills among others. 

For more information on how our early learning center supports first-time parents, get in touch with our team today or schedule a virtual tour of our campuses. 

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