Time for Tummy-Time!
The most important muscle development that your small baby needs to master during the early stages of development is gaining control of his head. He will move from being in a tight little ball to a more open body position as he gains some control of his body and muscles. For this reason, “tummy time” is vital. During “tummy time” your baby develops his neck and back muscles so that he can lift his head while in this position. We all know the importance of stretching a muscle before contracting (using) it. This is why runners can be seen spending a considerable amount of their training time stretching their legs before they embark on their run. While in a tummy-lying position, your baby’s tummy muscles have a chance to stretch out in preparation for contracting when learning to sit and later crawl. While on his tummy, your roller will start to push up on his arms, which is the start of vital arm and shoulder girdle strengthening. Shoulder girdle development is imperative for crawling and is the foundation for fine motor development much later on (e.g. colouring in and cutting). While he is lying on his tummy, a large portion of your baby’s skin is in contact with the floor or blanket he is lying on, and as a result his touch system is being stimulated. Again, this significantly impacts your baby’s fine motor development later on.
Due to the fact that tummy time is a lot of hard work for your vulnerable little baby, many babies find this position challenging and may fuss a lot, especially when first introduced to this new, unfamiliar position. It is important to realise that any amount of time spent on his tummy, even if it is very brief, is beneficial. Your baby does not have to spend long periods of time in this position to derive benefit from it. However, there are a few strategies you can employ to make tummy time experiences more pleasant and encouraging. You can offer some support in this demanding position, initially by rolling up a blanket or small towel under your baby’s chest and armpits. Offering a distraction may take your baby’s mind off the “hard work” of this position. Faces, especially Mom’s, can be very interesting for babies. You could lie on your tummy facing your baby, so that your face is in front of his. Allowing your baby to look at his face in a mirror can also be very motivating. Some baby’s feel safer and more secure spending tummy time on Mom or Dad’s chest. In this position, you can make tummy time easier or more difficult according to your baby’s growing skill by increasing or decreasing the incline of your body. The lower you are (or the more horizontal your body is), the harder it is for your baby to lift his head up against gravity. Start off with only a few seconds in tummy lying, before lifting your little treasure and cuddling him to reward his efforts. It is very important that you listen and respond to your baby’s fussing signals in order to gain his trust. As he gains head and neck strength, you will be able to gradually increase the amount of time he spends in tummy time! Lastly, by placing your hand on your baby’s bum, you can stabilise his hip joints and assist him to isolate just his head and neck muscles, thereby making it easier for him to lift his head up against gravity. Gradually reduce this support as he gains more strength in tummy lying.
Here are some activity ideas from the Groovy Adventurer book to get your baby started with tummy time:
- I see you-you see me – Encourage some vital tummy time by lying in front of your baby with your face in front of his face. Call his name or reward him with a kiss when he attempts to lift his head off the ground!
- Mirror, mirror on the wall – Your baby will love seeing your face and his face in the mirror. This could motivate him while you are changing his nappy or encouraging tummy time!
If your baby is not enjoying tummy time, despite many opportunities to get used to this position, it may be an indication that he has a sensitive movement or touch sense. He may dislike the feeling of his head being in a different position or the feel of the carpet or blanket on his tummy. Often babies who have a sensitive movement sense prefer to be upright when held. As a result he may also dislike the feeling of his head being tilted back (e.g. when gently “roughhousing” with your baby or attempting to wash his hair). If you are noticing these trends in your little baby, you may find it helpful to consult with a sensory trained Occupational Therapist.