Newborn babies spend most of their time on their backs. This is in part due to the “Back to Sleep” campaign, which urges parents to place babies on their backs to sleep in order to decrease the mortality rate from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
The campaign has been a great success, but as an unintended consequence, babies spend much less time on their tummies even when they are awake. Because babies spend so much time lying on their back, they may develop a flat spot where their head presses against the mattress. This is known as plagiocephaly. Giving your baby tummy time may avoid flat head syndrome and offers some other important benefits.
Child experts agree that tummy time is an important part of babyhood, and babies that spend very little time on their tummies, may be delayed in their physical and sensory development. During tummy time your baby develops upper body strength and head control, and strengthens muscles in the arms and neck. All of this is needed in the next stages of physical development: rolling over, pushing up and after much practice, crawling.
Many parents start tummy time – often subconsciously – when the baby is very young by having the baby lying on the parent’s chest. Most babies will feel happy in this position, as they feel secure and can hear the heartbeat, a familiar sound from the womb.
A natural way to follow on from this position is to put your baby onto a suitable surface and lie right next to him, so he can see your face. While you are there, gently talk, sing or make silly faces or noises, whatever entertains your baby. Our generously sized Cosyplay mat is a great tummy time mat, which offers a comfortable space for both you and your baby.
Some babies find that lying on their tummies is awkward and they might start fussing or crying. Try putting your baby on his side facing you first. If your baby is happy, roll him slowly onto the front. If he objects, put him back into the position he preferred and start again. If you are sensitive to your baby’s objections, he will soon realise that tummy time can be instantly stopped on his command.
By repeating this exercise over the next few days, you will find that your baby will get more and more used to being on his tummy and the new position will not feel so strange anymore.
Once your baby starts pushing himself up off the ground make sure he is on a soft enough surface. With his muscle tone still weak and his coordination not quite developed, the head will often plop back onto the mat.
Some babies like to be higher up during tummy time, which gives them a better view of their surroundings. Try placing a rolled up blanket or towel under your baby’s chest. This also frees up their hands, so they can hold onto a toy. Cushions or bolsters that are too big might restrict your baby’s movements and development. Many tummy time mats come with inbuilt cushions or surfboards. These are limiting as the baby cannot progress from being on the tummy to rolling over.
Once your baby is completely happy to be in the frontal position you might find him pushing up onto his hands and knees - or even hands and feet, doing a baby push up. This is the precursor of crawling. If you wish, you can encourage your baby further by putting toys just out of reach.
Whenever you decide to introduce tummy time, make sure to keep it relaxed and enjoyable for both of you. Try different positions and activities and let your baby guide you.
For more valuable information on making the most out of interacting with your baby check out our blog.