Andrea Moyer knew that experts say young babies should have regular “tummy time.”
It’s important for babies to vary their position because when their weight is constantly on the back of the head, it can actually flatten the developing skull. Tummy time also helps babies strengthen neck muscles and allows them to do the developmental work (wiggling, “swimming” their arms and legs, and so on) that lays the groundwork for crawling.
There was only one problem. Moyer’s baby, Jacob, hated being on his stomach. “In the first few months, if he lasted more than a minute I was surprised,” she says. Cindy Brandon, a professor of early childhood education at Centennial College in Toronto, is enthusiastic about the benefits of tummy time, but she acknowledges that today’s babies, who may not be used to being in this position because they sleep on their backs and spend a lot of time in infant seats, “might not like it right away.” She has lots of tricks for easing babies into this new experience, though.
Good timing Start with a baby who is fed, rested and calm. Babies who are already a little stressed out need familiar comforts, not a new challenge. Short, frequent sessions Jacob didn’t last long on his tummy at first, and Moyer didn’t push him past what he could handle. But she did give him lots of little tries — for example, she put a mirror at the end of the change table for Jacob to look at and often put him on his stomach for a bit after changing him.
Interesting stuff Nobody wants to be stranded on the floor with a view of the woodwork! Try colourful toys to look at (and reach for, if your baby is a bit older), mirrors or mobiles hung low beside the baby. “I would hold her favourite yellow duck and squeeze it to make it quack, and she would look up at it,” says Lindsay Sterling of her baby, Deveny. “Or I would put music and light toys around her because they were the most interesting to look at.” You! “The parent is the most interesting part of the exercise,” exclaims Brandon. “You have to be down there too.” Your face at eye level, talking, singing or playing peekaboo is about the best toy there is.
Exercise balls A big exercise ball, says Brandon, is a perfect infant tummy rocker. “We gently lay the babies on their tummies on the balls and gently rock them, and they love it. It’s very comforting.” And it’s a nice way to get used to being on your stomach in a soothing way.
The human floor Starting on mom or dad is another cozy way to become accustomed to tummy time. Moyer would slouch back on the couch at a 45-degree angle and lay Jacob on her chest. “He was definitely using his neck muscles to turn his head or look up at me, and he was happier than on the floor.” You can also pull your knees up to your chest and lay the baby along your shins, holding onto his hands and letting his chin tuck comfortably in the little dip where your knees press together. Give him a little ride! Or just lie on the floor, tummy to tummy, together. Eventually, says Brandon, you want to work up to your baby spending time playing right on the floor. “On the floor, babies can start to reach and push against the hard surface. They begin to move themselves along a little bit, and then begin to ‘combat crawl.’ It’s all a progression.”
Flat Head Info
The Canadian Paediatric Society website has a page of information for parents about ways to prevent babies from developing flat spots on their heads: caringforkids.cps.ca.