Baby Boot Camp: The Importance of Tummy Time

Tummy time promotes development, strength, and a new visual perspective for your baby. Growing babies require many hours of sleep, which means your baby spends a large amount of time on his or her back to maintain a safe position while sleeping. Tummy time is pivotal during waking hours to strengthen the head, neck, and shoulder muscles and promote head control. Tummy time also gives your baby a fresh new perspective on the world as they can interact with toys and reach for objects in the environment. Tummy time is fundamental to your baby’s development and builds skills that promote later milestones of rolling over, crawling, and playing.

Getting started with Tummy Time

Tummy time can be started at any age, it is even recommended for newborns! Tummy time should always be a supervised activity. Gradually introduce your baby to tummy time by placing them on your stomach or chest in a reclined position such as laying on the couch. This allows your baby to continue bonding and interacting with you and may help them tolerate this new position. Start with short intervals on a safe and firm surface, such as the floor, for two to three minutes per day. You can progress up to 20 to 30 minutes of tummy time per day depending on your baby’s tolerance. Aim for tummy time at a time of day when he or she is alert, such as after nap time. Remember to always pay attention to your baby’s needs and look for signs of tiredness, such as crying or laying their head down on the floor.

How can I promote a successful tummy time experience?

  • Provide extra support with a bolster
    • Try rolling up a thin towel or blanket to make a bolster
    • Place the bolster under your baby’s chest with his or her arms positioned over the roll and hands in front
    • Always keep your baby’s chin in front of the roll to ensure their airway remains open
  • Promote weight bearing
    • Make sure your baby distributes his or her weight to both sides of the body in order to equally strengthen
  • Promote reaching for play
    • Get down on the floor with your baby to promote engagement and motivation
    • Hold a toy in front of your baby to encourage head control and reaching
    • Place toys in a circle around your baby to promote reaching in all directions
  • Try out other positions
    • Side-lying: Lay your baby on his or her side and support their back with your hand or a rolled towel. Place your baby’s arms out in front to promote reaching and play in this position.
    • Airplane: Lay down and hold your baby in your arms while he or she is on their belly. This a fun and motivating new perspective for babies with head control.
  • Make tummy time a routine
    • Incorporate tummy time during everyday tasks such as diaper changes, songs, toweling off, or reading a book.
    • Try burping your baby with him or her laying across your lap on their tummy
  • Make it a multi-sensory experience
    • Use a visually stimulating blanket or towel
    • Try placing your baby on a variety of textured blankets or mats
    • Use a mirror to motivate your baby to lift his or her head to see their reflection and encourage self-recognition
    • Alternate between various safe surfaces in your home such as carpet, tile, or wood

What are red flags to look out for? 

  • Pay attention if your baby shows a head preference. For optimal development, your baby should look to both sides equally. Does he or she have a strong preference towards one side?
  • Does your baby have difficulty weight bearing on one side of the body? For development, it is important that your baby strengthen both sides of the body and weight bear equally through both hands and arms.
  • Does your baby have a flat patch on the side or back of the head? Is your baby’s head asymmetrical? Flat patches may develop due to a strong head preference or increased time spent on their back.

If your child is demonstrating some of the observations above, consider contacting one of our occupational therapists or the Illinois Early Intervention system for more information.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Robyn Geist, MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist

Reference: Pumerantz, Christa & Zachry, Anne (2018). Tips for living life to its fullest: Establishing tummy time routines to enhance your baby’s development. American Occupational Therapy Association.

Photo Credit: Moswyn via iStock.com

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