If your baby isn’t a fan of tummy time (meaning that there are a whole lot of tears from both of you), those few minutes that she spends belly down on the floor probably seem to last forever. And that makes many parents just want to skip the whole deal. “You have this instinct to take your baby out of tummy time if she is fussing,” says Jennifer Halfin, a physiotherapist with a focus in paediatrics who has two young kids of her own.
But tummy time is essential to your baby’s development. “Babies need it to learn, grow and develop their muscular, skeletal and nervous systems,” says Halfin. “Tummy time is that initial building block that they build other motor skills on.” Also, physiotherapists are seeing a sharp increase in babies with plagiocephaly, or flat head syndrome, she adds, because they’re spending so much time on their backs while they sleep (because of safe sleep guidelines) and while they’re in strollers and car seats. Getting lots of tummy time is a way to prevent this. “A good reminder is ‘back to sleep, but tummy to play,’” says Halfin.
So how much tummy time does your baby actually need? “Aim for two or three times a day, for three to five minutes at a time to start, and progress to 10 minutes extra each month,” says Halfin. In the first month, aim for 10 minutes of tummy time, 20 minutes in the second month and so on until your baby is six months old and can roll over both ways (though you should still place your baby on her stomach to play after that). And remember, these are just guidelines: There is no such thing as too much tummy time, says Halfin. Here are some simple ways to prevent boredom and make tummy time downright fun.
1. Go chest to chest
Relaxing against some couch pillows with your newborn snuggled on your chest and looking at your face actually counts as tummy time in the early days, says Halfin. You can start this activity (and bonding time!) on day one. Just make sure that the upper part of your body is at a 45-degree angle. Now you can chat to your little one or study each other—you’re both getting to know each other after all.
2. Use props
When your baby is two or three weeks old, it’s time to move down to the floor for tummy time. “Put your baby’s chest against your nursing pillow, a rolled-up blanket or a beach towel, again at a 30- to 45-degree angle, so that she can get her arms forward to start to brace herself,” says Halfin. As time goes on, use smaller props, such as a rolled-up kitchen towel. Place a book, toy or even yourself in front of her as entertainment. Now is a great time to break out your favourite nursery songs with hand motions, like patty-cake.
3. Have a seat
You can also sit on the floor with your legs outstretched and your baby’s chest against your legs. Talk, sing and rub her back—it will help soothe her and may stop the tummy time tears.
4. Be entertaining
Once your baby is three or four months old, she can be on her tummy on the floor without any props. “Get on the floor, face to face, so your baby can see you,” advises Halfin. “You can also use a small mirror at a 45-degree angle so that your baby is motivated to see her own face. Any sort of pattern, especially black and white, is visually stimulating and entertaining, too.” If your baby becomes tired or cranky, try adding a prop, like a blanket, to make it easier for your baby.
5. Rock and roll
Get out your exercise ball and place your baby on top, tummy down (you may want to place a blanket on the ball to make it cozy for her). While keeping a firm hand on her so that she doesn’t slip, gently roll backwards, forward and side to side and even bounce a little. Halfin explains that this move helps baby develop proprioception, which is an awareness of where her body is in relation to her environment. Your little one can start this tummy time activity shortly after birth—just make sure to stay nice and close to your baby.
6. Take a stroll
Cradle your baby in your arms, tummy down, and go for a walk in your home or yard, describing what you see along the way. This is also a great way for her to start learning about her environment.
7. Make a baby airplane
Lie on your back with your knees up to your chest and hold your baby facing you, with her little body on your shins. Hold her chest to secure her against your legs and let her arms rest on your legs. This activity requires your baby to have good head control, so it’s best to wait until she is about two or three months old. She’ll definitely laugh and giggle at this one as you make airplane sounds and pretend to fly her to infinity and beyond. Spit-up alert: This one is best when your baby hasn’t just had a feeding!
8. Get naked
Before you put on a clean diaper after a change, place your baby on a soft blanket or towel on the floor. Let her stare and play with a stuffed animal, or lie on the ground with her and make funny faces. The best thing about this activity? You get tummy time and bare bum time at the same time, which is a serious parenting win.
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