Tummy Time Mechanics for New Parents
Being new parents can be a time of mixed feelings and emotions; excitement, confusion, and fear, just to name a few. With all of the information available, today from new-age tips and techniques for ensuring your baby meets all of their developmental goals to old-school “wives’ tales” handed down from generation to generation, a time of wonder and joy can quickly turn to one of unneeded stress. All new parents want the same thing and that is to ensure that their baby is growing and developing safely and correctly. One of the first milestones, of course, is getting your bundle of joy to crawl, and like all new skills that he or she will learn, this one starts long before any actual crawling takes place.
Whether you’ve been around the babies of family and friends, or have done your homework before your own big day, you’ve likely heard of tummy time. Tummy time is a fundamental exercise for your little one, and like anything else, there are ways to approach it that will ensure safety and enjoyment for your child while also helping them to grow and develop as they should. When you bring your newborn home, their neck and core muscles are undeveloped and need some strength and conditioning. These muscles are the ones that they will use when it comes time to roll over, sit upright, crawl and walk. Additionally, their lack of ability to look around them and satisfy their curiosities can cause unneeded frustration and make your baby cranky for reasons that may not be apparent to you at the time.
So, when is a good time to start tummy time with your baby? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), as soon as you bring your baby home you can begin a scaled amount of tummy time. This will also decrease the likelihood of developing flat spots on the soft cranial bone plates in your baby’s head. These spots can develop due to prolonged time spent laying on their back, such as napping or sleeping, laying in their car seats or bouncy chairs, or just laying on their play mats. While these flat spots are generally cosmetic and typically go away with time, they are a good indication that your little one is spending more time than necessary on their backs.
Just like most things, in the beginning, it is better to take things slowly and a little at a time until both you and your baby adjust to things. The first thing you should do is prepare a safe area for your baby to have their tummy time. Excessively soft or bulky blankets or cushions will cause your baby to sink down and likely scare him or her. Laying a blanket on the carpet or rug creates a safe place for your baby to practice their tummy time. It’s important to make sure that he or she is alert and that you are always present so as to avoid the risk of suffocation or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), both the result of your baby not being able to lift their head after a time due to muscular weakness. Usually, in the beginning, 3 – 5 minutes of time per session and around 3 times a day is an excellent target window for tummy time. Too little and you won’t achieve the desired effects of the exercise and too much time could cause your baby to get frustrated and see it as more of a disruption than the playful exercise experience that its meant to be.
Another helpful recommendation is that you get down with your baby and interact with them during their tummy time. The goal is to create the desire to look around and begin pushing themselves up and holding their weight on their arms in order to explore their surroundings. This will build their strength and show them that they possess autonomy in the world around them to answer their curiosity, the beginning stages of crawling and walking later on. As you get to know what your child likes and doesn’t like, you’ll also learn the best times for tummy time. After they get up from their nap, right after a fresh diaper change, or a short while after they eat are all good opportunities provided they are alert and receptive. Your baby may not always like tummy time in the beginning. Remember that in the first few months of their life they are relatively stationary and their view is fairly fixed depending on where they were placed. Babies that are used to looking up from their crib or out from a bouncy chair could find the sensation of staring at the floor to be more than a little alarming. Getting down to their level and communicating with them or showing them their toys will help the baby adjust and find the experience more enjoyable. If they seem to dislike it, don’t abandon the whole effort thinking that you will just get to it down the road at some time; you can always try some different techniques. Many people find that lying down with your baby lying on your own tummy is more comforting for them. Placing favorite toys or stuffed animals around your baby on the floor is another way to get them to enjoy tummy time. This will also help them when they begin to attempt crawling later on. As your child grows and gets closer to crawling, you can increase both the frequency and duration of tummy time. By encouraging your child to try and get their toys on their own, (placed a reasonable distance away), they will discover for themselves the natural mechanics of crawling. This type of assisted self-development will inspire confidence in themselves that they can use as they continue to grow.
No matter what techniques you safely use, it is likely that both you and your baby will come to enjoy and look forward to tummy time. Like so many other parts of raising children, recognizing and understanding their pace of things is crucial. Not every baby is the same and some will require more or less time than others to reach their benchmark goals. At the same time, making sure your baby progresses at a moderated rate is important. When it comes to developing muscles and coordination needed for sitting, crawling and eventually walking, trying to do too much too fast can have negative effects on the little one. Regular visits to your babies pediatrician and monitoring their progress will alleviate any stress and ensure that you spend more time worrying about which parent your baby takes after most rather than if they will crawl in time!