When our first son was born, I already knew the importance of tummy time – it strengthens the baby’s arms, chest, and core muscles, prepares the baby for sitting and crawling and help prevent flat head syndrome. I just didn’t know it should start as soon as babies are born!
I remember when we took Ethan to his one-week checkup and, at the end of his appointment, his pediatrician told us that we could go ahead and begin practising tummy time with him every day. She explained the importance of this activity for baby development and showed us how it should be done. The only problem was, Ethan hated being on his tummy. He would grumble, squawk and cry – it was like putting him flat on the ground wasn’t the right thing to do at that time. We didn’t know what to do.
Then, a few weeks later, we started taking a parent/infant education class offered at our local community college taught by a child development specialist. I’m so glad for everything we learned in that class, especially when it came to helping our son actually enjoy tummy time! Some of the tips you’ll find below is inspired by what we learned in that class and some are taken from our own experience as a parent.
Use a Yoga Ball
Yoga is an amazing exercise that provides many benefits for adults and kids. Although your infant is too young to learn kids yoga practice, he can still benefit from the use of a yoga ball for tummy time. Playing with your baby on a yoga ball not only makes tummy time more fun but also provide more opportunities for movement and sensory input. When using a yoga ball for tummy time, make sure you’re safe by having a good hold on your baby’s midsection (between armpits to hips), a stabilized ball and only moving your baby as much as their neck and back muscles can handle. Follow your child’s lead for how comfortable he is with the different types of movements.
Use a Newborn Play Mat
A newborn play mat, also called an activity mat, can help keep your little one entertained while also providing a clean and cushioned space for tummy time. For example, our activity mat includes a quilted mat that provides perfect tummy time support, along with plush play toys that provide different stimuli for babies to keep them entertained and encourage lifting, reaching and grabbing. It also includes activity bars that can be attached to the quilted mat with velcro and removed for when you want to use just the quilted mat or for storage. The toy ring on each character allows you to secure them on the activity bars or to the pram or car seat as well.
When will a baby enjoy a play mat? Your newborn can start using a play mat as long as they’re comfortable with lying on their back without being swaddled. While they might not interact with the toys and different textures at this time, but simply looking at the dangling toys can be a fun activity during their alert time. Babies get the most from a newborn play mat once tummy time is introduced. When Ethan was only a few months old, he was very fascinated when one of the toys in front of him dangled – he tried to hold his head to have a closer look at it.
When it comes to how long should baby play on activity mat, you should limit sessions to five minutes at a time no more than three times a day. You can gradually work your way up to an hour of tummy time a day. The dangling toys will encourage your baby to reach and eventually sit up, a milestone he should reach by the time he’s 6 months old (remember that every kid is different). He will also start practising standing on all fours and rocking back and forth to reach different toys. This is a movement that will eventually turn into crawling.
Lay Out Toys
With time, your baby will get more tolerant with tummy time and will want something to do while he’s there. Set his favourite toys around him and when he is comfortable playing with them, place one just out of reach. This will challenge him to figure out how to get himself closer, distracting him from tummy time.
Simply plopping your baby on his belly and watching from a distance probably won’t lead to an enjoyable tummy-time experience. Consider getting down on the floor, making eye contact, funny faces and noises… this will help encourage your baby. Just like you might need a workout buddy, our baby is working hard and need you there to help him.
Don’t Push It
Even though tummy time is essential, don’t make it a marathon. If your baby can only handle 15 seconds of tummy time without crying in the beginning, that’s fine. It’s important that you find the gentle balance between supporting your baby and encouraging him to shit past his comfort zone. So, scoop your little one up when he starts to seem distressed and try again later when he is better rested and fed.