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I once saw a comedian on TV who gave an entertaining discussion about “tummy time”. When the child health nurse first spoke to him about ‘tummy time” for his baby, he thought she was from another planet. “What’s tummy time he said”? He joked that people of his generation not needing “tummy time” and growing up perfectly normal. Granted he was very funny, these days “tummy time” is thought to make a huge contribution to babies’ development and well-being. It is no joke!
Why does baby need tummy time?
Tummy time is important as it helps your baby develop strong neck and back muscles. It helps prepare your baby for crawling and waking. Tummy time can also help to prevent your baby’s head becoming flat otherwise known as positional plagiocephaly. If this is left untreated it can cause uneven development of the baby’s face or head. Varying your baby’s head position and tummy time will help to ensure that this does not occur after birth.
The Mayo Clinic recommends the following:
• Start by laying your newborn on his or her tummy across your lap two or three times a day for a few minutes. You can also lay baby on your chest.
• As your baby grows stronger, place him or her on a blanket on the floor after a nappy change or during awake time. I had a special play mat for both my kids which was brightly coloured and had animals hanging down and a little mirror on one corner! I would place this play mat on top of foam matting also brightly coloured with the alphabet.
• Arrange age-appropriate toys within your baby’s reach. As your baby gets used to tummy time, place your baby on his or her stomach more frequently or for longer periods of time.
• For a 3- to 4-month-old baby, some research suggests aiming for at least 20 minutes of tummy time a day.
It’s important to never leave your baby unattended during tummy time. This is a fully supervised activity and it may take some time for your baby to become used to it. If your baby becomes fussy you can change the activity. Roll them over on to their back for a different view.
Why is it so important these days?
Our babies are transported around so much more carefully than they were a few generations back. We put them in capsules and prams, feeding chairs, rockers, play centres and the like, there are a lot of hard surfaces pressing against the back of their heads that can have an impact on the shape of their heads.
There has been so much research into safe sleep, especially with Red Nose (formerly SIDS and Kids) and all the research supports sleeping baby on their back for the safest possible sleep position. Therefore, babies are spending a much greater amount of time on their backs and on their heads. If this is not counterbalanced with tummy time, problems could arise down the track.
How to Start
Without some time spent on their tummy, your baby is less likely to experiment with pushing off the ground and therefore crawling could be delayed.
So to help your baby start moving, get down on the floor with your baby regularly. Start by putting toys just out of their reach. After all, if everything they want is always easily accessible, she won’t have an incentive to try to push, pull, or drag herself forward.
The world has developed so much and we now know so much more than generations before us about harmful impacts on us. Hey in the early years we didn’t know that smoking could kill. We know that prevention is better than cure. So if we give our babies tummy time, they’re much less likely to need physical exercise or intervention to undo the flat head or to build up their neck and back muscles.
Ideas for tummy time
A baby’s head position needs to be varied during sleep and awake periods. Here are some simple tips from the Royal Melbourne Children’s Hospital to help prevent your baby developing deformational plagiocephaly:
• Sleep time. A baby must always be placed on their back to sleep to reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or Cot Death). However, it is important to vary the position of your baby’s head. Make sure you alternate the baby’s head position between the left and right side each time they sleep.
• Sleep position. Place your baby at alternate ends of the cot to sleep, or change the position of the cot in the room. Babies often like to look at fixed objects like windows or wall murals. Changing their cot position will encourage them to look from different angles.
• Play time. Place your baby on their tummy or side to play when awake. You can also change the position of toys that your baby likes to look at.
• Vary the holding and carrying positions of your baby. For example, you could use a sling or hold your baby upright for cuddles. Try carrying your baby over your arm on their tummy or side. This can also be beneficial if your baby is colicky.
We would also use tummy time out doors at the park or beach. It’s also important that babies get some exposure to the sun for Vitamin D each day. The Cancer Council of Australia recommends that when the UV Index is 3 or above (such as during summer), just 3-5 minutes outdoors on most days of the week. In late autumn and winter, when the UV Index falls below 3, baby should spend time outdoors in the middle of the day with some skin uncovered.
At first your baby may not like tummy time, but it’s worth persevering each day for a couple of minutes. As baby gets accustomed to it, you can increase the time on their tummy. Soon baby will get to the point where they can hold their own weight. A baby’s head is very heavy compared to the rest of their body. So don’t expect them to be able to lift their head much at all in the beginning. Then there are other babies that can hold their heads up from birth. Just remember to take it slowly and build up gradually.