As a new parent, one of the hardest things is hearing your baby cry. You spend most (OK, all) of your day responding to those cries, trying to figure out what they mean and how to make things better. The last thing you want to be doing is putting your baby in any position that will make them upset. This is the main reason why most parents avoid tummy time.
Babies, for the most part, do not like tummy time. They are not used to it as they should be sleeping on their backs. Secondly, tummy time for a baby is like going to the gym for an adult – it’s a work out! So why is this hard work so important for such a little baby?
Here is how tummy time contributes to your baby’s growth and development:
- Neck and back strength: When your baby is on their tummy, they will want to try and lift their head to see the world around them. It may be tough at first, but those little lifting movements go a long way. Being on their tummy helps to strengthen their neck and back muscles and develops head control.
- Upper body strength: When babies begin tummy time, their arms are tucked underneath their shoulders, and they may not yet bring their head up. Believe it or not, this is the start of upper body strengthening. By bearing weight through their arms, they are promoting the development of their shoulders, and as they begin to push up on their forearms and hands, they strengthen all the muscles involved. This is the foundation for later development of fine motor skills like grasping a pencil, printing, and holding scissors.
- Head shape: This is a very common issue seen with babies who spend too much time on their backs. Since the bones in a baby’s skull are flexible and soft, spending too much time on their back can cause the bones to shift and flatten. Tummy time helps to alleviate that pressure and allows for the skull to round out.
- Sensory processing development: When babies are on their tummies, they receive all kinds of great tactile and proprioceptive sensory input on their hands, trunks, and legs. This gives important input to babies’ brains about how and where their bodies are moving in space.
- Coordination: Tummy time helps develop hand-eye coordination as your little one begins to reach for objects. It also helps promote left-right body coordination as one side of the body needs to stabilize so that the other side can reach forwards.
- Further motor milestones: Tummy time is a building block in a long line of gross motor skills that your baby will learn. It provides a position that is used as a foundation for crawling, pushing back into sitting, kneeling, and pulling to stand. Most often I find babies who crawl later or skip crawling did not enjoy tummy time, and never got used to the feeling of bearing weight through their hands and knees, and therefore have a hard time developing coordination in that position. Push through with a bit of tummy time every day, and your baby will gradually get stronger and develop more milestones.
- Tummy time is hard but don’t give up! Give breaks and lots of encouragement
- Back to sleep – tummy to play!
- Check back for tips on how to make tummy time easier for you and your baby
Jennifer is a registered physiotherapist working in the field of paediatrics. She has worked with children of all ages, helping them to achieve their motor milestones through various therapeutic approaches. Jenn also has extensive experience working with infants with torticollis and plagiocephaly. As a new mom herself, she loves sharing her experiences and learning from others.