Tummy Time Without Tears: Tips From a Pediatric Physical Therapist

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Image description: a baby smiling and wearing a white onesie while doing tummy time on a bed. (Tummy Time Without Tears: Tips From a Pediatric Physical Therapist Brittany Aquart Contributor Miami Mom Collective)
Image description: a baby smiling and wearing a white onesie while doing tummy time on a bed.

“Back to sleep, tummy to play.” This pretty much sums up the American Academy of Pediatric’s recommendations for babies. But what if your baby hates tummy time?

Why it Matters

Babies develop strength in their body from the top-down. This means they must first build the muscles of their neck, then their upper back, then lower back, and so on, in order to learn to roll, sit, crawl and stand. Frequent tummy time develops depth perception, muscle strength, fine motor dexterity, and independent mobility. It also helps prevent “flat head syndrome” and developmental delays. Since babies should sleep on their back to reduce the risk of SIDS, it is important to make sure they spend supervised, awake time on their tummies. Tummy time can be a challenge for some babies, especially if they have severe reflux or other developmental difficulties. Your friendly neighborhood pediatric physical therapist is here to help. There is no shame in getting help to ensure the best outcomes for your baby’s individual needs. 

Image Description: a baby is smiling while doing tummy time on a brightly colored mat. Colorful toys are hanging from a play gym in front of the baby. (Tummy Time Without Tears: Tips From a Pediatric Physical Therapist Brittany Aquart Contributor Miami Mom Collective)
Image Description: a baby is smiling while doing tummy time on a brightly colored mat. Colorful toys are hanging from a play gym in front of the baby.

When to Start

Babies are recommended to start tummy time the day they are born! The reality is, the hospital is a busy place. It’s hard to carve out time for anything; and you, Mama, just birthed a whole human! I tell most expecting parents to start intentional tummy time once you bring baby home. The earlier you start daily tummy time with your baby, the better. If your baby is already past the newborn stage, don’t fret, it’s not too late! Start with about 5 minutes at a time, 2-3 times a day, and slowly increase tummy time until your baby spends most of their awake playtime (in total, about 1 to 1.5 hours) on their tummy.

How to Do Tummy Time

Chest to Chest: For newborns, my favorite tummy time method is laying baby face-down on your chest. The more you recline, the more baby will have to work against gravity. 

Image description: a newborn sleeping on a father's chest. (Tummy Time Without Tears: Tips From a Pediatric Physical Therapist Brittany Aquart Contributor Miami Mom Collective)
Chest to Chest. Image description: a newborn baby sleeping on a father’s chest.

Propped on Chest: Make tummy time a little easier by placing a Boppy pillow, rolled-up receiving blanket, or your leg under their chest. Keep their arms in front of their shoulders and place something fun to look at in front of them. 

(Brittany Aquart Contributor Miami Mom Collective)
Propped on Chest. Image Description: a baby is doing tummy time with a small pillow propped under their chest. Colorful toys are hanging in front of the baby.

Face to Face: Babies love interacting with YOU! Get on their level during tummy time. Talk, sing and play with them eye to eye. 

(Brittany Aquart Contributor Miami Mom Collective)
Face to Face. Image Description: a mother and her baby look at each other while both lying on their tummies facing each other.

Roll to Tummy: Babies may not like going directly from your arms to face-down on the floor. I like to put babies on their back first, then roll them slowly onto their tummy. If they start to fuss, roll them onto their back and see if they can return to their tummy after a small break. When they’ve had enough, roll them onto their back before picking them up so they don’t build a negative association with tummy time. 

If you are having trouble doing tummy time with your baby, talk to your pediatrician. There may be an underlying reason why it is challenging for them, and a pediatric physical therapist may be able to help. 

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