Why is Tummy Time Important?
You may have heard about “tummy time” and know that it is important for young babies to spend time on their fronts. If, however, you don’t know the reasons for doing it, or what to do if your little one is reluctant to stay on their tummy, it can be hard to get started. In this post we will be looking at why tummy time is an important part of your little one’s development, how to find the best time to do it and some techniques to make it more fun and rewarding for both of you.
Tummy Time for Young Babies
Young babies spend a great deal of their time on their backs, either sleeping or sitting in a car seat, bouncy chair etc. While this is important for safe sleeping, being on their backs limits their movement and also their view of the world, so it is vital for healthy development that babies also spend some time on their tummy during the day. As well as being able to kick their legs freely, tummy time, in particular, encourages babies to start to lift their head. This begins to build the muscles in the neck, shoulders and back, improving head control and the strength in these areas that baby will need to progress to pushing up, sitting, crawling and eventually walking. None of these stages are possible without gaining control over the head and upper body muscles.
Getting Started with Tummy Time
Because babies are often used to being on their back, and do not have much strength to begin with, they can be resistant to tummy time. It’s perhaps not too much fun lying face down on the ground with nowhere to go! There are, however, lots of ways to make it easier and more fun for them, and therefore more effective by prolonging the time they are happy to stay on their tummy.
As with all play time activities for your baby, make sure that you choose a time where they are comfortable, alert and happy to play before starting tummy time. If baby is tired, hungry, needs changing or has already had a lot of activity that day, delay tummy time for now. Once you do start, don’t keep your little one on their tummy longer than they are happy to avoid building up negative associations with tummy time. Pick your little one up, give them a cuddle and try a different activity for now, but do make sure you try again later or the following day and aim to build up to spending longer periods doing tummy time activities.
Starting off with just a few minutes at a time is fine. Just build up gradually to longer periods of tummy time play as your baby is happy to tolerate this. You will find that their strength and stamina will very quickly increase, providing the basis for progression to subsequent stages of development, as well as lots of fun play times. You might even find that tummy time becomes baby’s favourite time of day.
Tummy Time Play Activities
Below you will find some ideas to try with your little one to help make tummy time more fun and effective. Different children will enjoy and respond to different things so experiment with the various ideas to find what works for you. Even if your little one is happy on their tummy or has progressed to sitting, crawling or walking, it is still important to make tummy time play and crawling activities part of your play time routine to boost the development of muscle tone, co-ordination, spatial awareness and balance. Expand upon or adapt the activities as your little one grows.
Prop Baby Up
For babies who are not yet able to lift their head very high, or at all, help make it easier for them by giving them a little height. Place a rolled up towel or small pillow under baby’s chest, bringing their arms forward over it to support them. This helps them to be able to see more of the world around them, and encourages them to lift their head.
Get Down and Play
Keep babies engaged during tummy time by giving them their favourite play thing – you. If you can, get down on your tummy, face to face with baby, and talk, sing, make faces and play peek-a-boo. Calling their name will encourage the head to lift to find you. Don’t forget to give lots of smiles, praise and cuddles when they do. Continue the practice of getting down to play on your child’s level, and particularly on your tummies, as your baby grows into a toddler. Get other family members involved too for even more fun and variety for your little one.
Another nice way to enjoy tummy time with your baby is by playing a game of baby aeroplane. Start by laying on your back on a flat surface and placing baby, face down on your chest. This may be enough for young babies, and you can again encourage them to lift their head by lifting yours and calling their name. Once they are comfortable with this bring your legs up, so that your shins are parallel to the ground, and lift baby up on top of your legs, so that their tummy and chest are resting on your shins with the head slightly forward. This gives them a great view of you and the world around them. To make it more fun, gently bounce your legs up and down, or rock from side to side, varying the speed and intensity of the movement to what your baby likes. Choose a favourite song to sing as you do this activity, and bounce your legs along with the tune. Singing, especially when combined with movement, is a great way to introduce rhythm and develop language skills.
Making Tummy Time More Fun!
To add variety and interest to tummy time think about introducing toys and sensory objects to your play time. Try some of the suggestions below or experiment with your own ideas.
Use a Mirror
A fun thing for babies to look at during tummy time is themselves! Place a mirror in front of them, and talk about what they can see. Prop the mirror up at different angles as head control improves and to vary the game.
Use a Beach or Exercise Ball.
Using a ball, again gives baby a different perspective and an elevated position from which to view the world. Adding movement makes it even more fun and engaging for baby, so try the following:
Lie baby over the ball on his or her tummy.
Encourage baby to keep their head lifted as you rock the ball forwards and back, and side to side. This helps to strengthen the neck and back muscles and improve head control.
Rock baby all the way forward until his or her hands touch the floor. Place a toy in front for baby to reach out for and pick up.
For older babies, encourage them to put weight on their hands, and build up to forwards hand walking, letting the body roll forwards on the ball.
Engage the Senses
Give your baby something interesting to see and feel while they are on their tummy. A rug or large piece of fabric with an interesting pattern or texture to lie on is a great way to do this, or try one of our favourites from class, a foil blanket. These are fantastic for keeping baby engaged as they are not only interesting to feel, but make some great crinkly sounds when scrunched or moved and the shiny surface reflects lights and colours making it visually stimulating too.
In case you are not sure where to find them, we have simple resources like beach balls and foil blankets that are great for tummy time play available at class or via our website for you. Click HERE or ask your class leader to get yours.
Practice Little and Often
All these ideas help give baby something to focus on, distracting them from simply being on their tummy, and this often means they will be happy to be on those tummies for a bit longer, building up that upper body strength and head control little by little. Even a few minutes of tummy time play once or twice a day will make a huge difference, and you will see quite rapid progress when you practice these activities on a regular basis.
As your baby starts to get stronger you will be able to slowly increase the time he or she spends happily doing tummy time and find more ways to make it fun and engaging for you both, and before you know it you will have a crawler on your hands!
Explore Tummy Time at Tots Play
We explore these and lots of other tummy time ideas as part of our fun, interactive, multi-activity developmental play classes, suitable from birth, so why not come and give them a try for yourself? Click HERE to find a class near you and come and join us soon.
No classes near you yet? Take a look at our franchise programme, and perhaps you, or someone you know, could be bringing Tots Play to your area sometime soon.
However you and your little one enjoy your tummy time this week, Happy Playing!
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