Father of two Graham Bignell suspects he’s discovered the ideal surface for a baby to have a little tummy time — Dad’s chest. He started it with his son, Aidan, now five, and continues today with four-month-old Carina.
“There are very few things so rewarding for such little effort,” Bignell says. “It gives her the exercise she needs, and it absolutely helps build your relationship with your baby — you are providing the comfort of your warmth and the security of being held, all while just lying on your back.”
Given the recommendation that babies sleep on their backs to prevent SIDS, it’s important that they spend time on their tummies too. Not only does this prevent a flattened head (which can happen when babies spend too much time on their backs or in car seats) but, as the Simcoe-Muskoka (Ont.) District Health Unit says on its website, “your baby has to have time on her tummy so she can develop the strength and skills she will need for crawling, walking and using her hands.”
The challenge is that many babies simply don’t enjoy being put belly-down on the floor. Kim Rechil says her five-month-old daughter, Kalixa, is not a fan of tummy time. “We started doing it right from the day she was born, but she would start crying in less than a minute.”
Arie Brentnall-Compton, who leads support groups for mothers in Edmonton, says Rechil isn’t alone. “I’ve had mothers burst into tears at the mere mention of tummy time because they find it so stressful.”
Like Bignell, Brentnall-Compton finds that the best way to promote tummy time is to keep your baby in contact with your body. “Carrying time is tummy time,” she says. “When you are moving around with the baby in a carrier facing you, or in your arms, the baby is constantly responding to the changes in your position. He’ll see things that interest him and lift up his head to follow with his eyes. He’ll tip his head back to look at your face. He’ll push against you and stretch. This is how he gets stronger.”
What helps is to give your baby a variety of tummy-time opportunities: After you change his diaper, roll him over and entertain him with some toys. Carry him in a sling or front carrier when you’re doing things around the house. Lie him on a blanket on the floor beside you while you fold the laundry.
Rechil found that changing Kalixa’s position made a big difference. Putting a small, flat pillow under her chest seemed to make her more comfortable — perhaps because it reduced the pressure on her stomach — and she was willing to look around.
Graham Bignell’s longest sessions as a play mat last an hour or so. “We usually do tummy time once a day, for as long as she’s happy. Sometimes I have a diaper change in the middle; sometimes she falls asleep.” He has a warning, though: “Tummy-to-tummy is not for anyone who can’t take spit-up in the face without flinching.” Because it will happen.