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Tummy Time Basics: When To Get Started

The first few weeks of your little one’s life are a combination of magical as well as a bit of blur at the same time. The exhaustion of a very new normal, often having round-the-clock visitors, and recovering from child-birth are a lot to embrace. You want to hold and snuggle (and smell that sweet baby smell!) your little one and so does your family and friends. You may have several pieces (or all) of the “must-have” baby equipment and have discovered that your baby loves the movement of the swing...maybe that’s the only thing that helps baby settle. You may have heard other moms or your pediatrician mention tummy time but don’t know exactly what that means for your newborn or when you are supposed to get started. As a pediatric physical therapist who has worked with many babies and their parents, I can say that you are not alone! The term “tummy time” is often thrown around with little explanation of what, when, and how. As a new, exhausted parent you should not be left alone to figure out what it really means. So let’s break it down!

So what is tummy time? Tummy time is placing your baby on their belly during active, awake time with direct supervision to strengthen their neck muscles and secondarily the muscles of their backs and glutes. In addition, tummy time helps to prevent flattening of the head. The Safe to Sleep campaign (formerly Back to Sleep) backed by the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and US National Institutes of Health encourages parents to place infants on their backs to sleep to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Therefore, the need for intentional and frequent tummy time when awake and supervised is crucial in strengthening and prevention of gross motor delay as well as prevention of positional deformity or flattening of the head.

When should tummy time be initiated? Often times I meet with parents who have no idea when they should be doing tummy time with their baby. This includes at what age to initiate and when/how often during the day. Most are surprised to find out that tummy time should be initiated as soon as possible after birth! This is not meant to overwhelm new’s easier than you think and we will discuss the “how” below. My recommendation is to get tummy time in during each wake window during the day. Several minutes here and there will add up by the end of the day!

Not sure how to do tummy time? Let’s talk it through! Most people think it only counts as tummy time if baby is flat on the floor. But let’s chat about other options. Placing your newborn on your chest counts! Something to consider: the activity is more challenging if you are lying down versus if you are sitting more upright with baby on your chest...try both! What we want to see is your baby attempting to lift and turn their head so try it when your baby is in an active, alert state instead of when sleepy. Talk to your baby, use musical toys, a mirror, or baby flash cards to encourage them to actively lift their head. If your baby doesn’t like lying flat on the floor, try placing something under their chest like a towel or blanket roll or a Boppy pillow. This takes some gravity out of the equation and makes it easier for baby to lift their head. As your baby gets older and stronger they will better tolerate being flat on the floor for longer periods of time.

Tummy time looks different as your baby grows, but the real take home message is to start early and often! Want to learn more? Schedule a phone consultation today to get started with a personalized infant development program and education!

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