The baby should begin practising tummy time once the umbilical cord stump falls off throughout the first year of life.
That’s an official recommendation from healthcare professionals.
Easier said than done, huh?
The truth is, not many kiddies are into lying face-down flat on their stomach. Some of them absolutely hate it.
Why is that, though?
What can I do to help my baby enjoy tummy time? And why should I even bother to do it at all?
Why Does My Baby Hate Tummy Time?
Typically, babies don’t like tummy time because of their physical limitations. Babies who haven’t had tummy time lack the muscle strength to lift up their heads. Moreover, they are not used to being in this position, as they are on their backs most of the time. Hence, it can be rather uninteresting and frustrating for them to lay face down. Also, if you have picked the wrong timing – they won’t enjoy it either. But don’t worry, by making tummy time more entertaining for your baby, they should gradually learn to love it.
1. What Is Tummy Time?
Tummy time is the first physical exercise your newborn baby gets. Basically, it is lying flat on her stomach during waking hours.
Performing this activity plays a crucial role in a baby’s healthy development, specifically motor, sensory and visual skills.
So, parents are strongly encouraged to practice this a few times a day.
Now, this could be quite a traumatic experience for parents whose kids hate tummy time.
And I am one of them thanks to my older daughter…
She didn’t like lying on her stomach. Every time I laid her down on her belly, she would cry until I changed her position. It was very distressing. I was ready to give up until I looked up the benefits of tummy time (which I listed in point 4 below).
After this turning point, I was determined to persevere despite all those cries. I must say it was worth it!
As time passed, she became less fussy and eventually stopped protesting when I put her on her stomach.
I would venture to say that she even enjoyed it.
On the other hand, my younger baby enjoyed tummy time from the very beginning. It was quite impressive to see her lift her head and hold it steady when she was just a few days old.
Now I can tell you that she reached all her milestones so much faster and her motor skills were much more advanced for her age. She was rolling at the 3 months, sitting steady by 5 months and crawling by 6 months.
I am not saying this to brag – I simply believe it proves the point.
Yeah, I know that every baby develops differently, but I bet tummy time helped my baby progress faster.
2. So, Why Does My Baby Hate Tummy Time?
Based on the experience with both kids, I found out a few possible reasons why babies are reluctant to spend time on their stomachs:
Obviously, if your baby spends all of her time lying on her back, it will be difficult for her to enjoy time on her stomach.
2.1 They are not used to it.
Tummy time requires using different muscles that your baby may not necessarily develop yet. So, they may need some time and a few tries to get used to lying on their bellies.
Starting tummy time as early as possible is the key here.
2.2 Their physical limitation.
For babies, lying on their stomachs is hard work. Meaning, their weak muscles won’t allow them to lift up their head.
They might find lying face down, unable to look around, quite frustrating, which is why they protested.
Unfortunately, this is a kind of vicious circle. Babies won’t develop a strong upper body to hold the head steady until they gain it through tummy time. So they need tummy time to overcome their physical limitation and build up those muscles.
There is no way to avoid tummy time, I’m afraid.
2.3 Wrong time, wrong place.
Basically, you need to get the timings right to give your baby a good tummy time experience.
The right time depends on the neurological state your baby is in. If your little one is hungry, tired, sleepy or is right after the feed – the chances are she won’t like spending the time on her tummy.
After all, it is a challenging physical exercise and requires a lot of effort from your baby.
You are much better off scheduling tummy sessions when your baby is alert, calm, and generally content. After a nap, for
example, when your little one is well-rested and ready for playtime.
2.4 Lack of stimulation and engagement.
This experience needs to be fun for your baby. Forget about letting your baby on the floor without any stimulation – this won’t work!
Make tummy sessions an opportunity to spend quality time together, bond with her, teach her new skills, and engage in fun activities.
3. How Can I Encourage Tummy Time?
If you’d like to make tummy time less painful for your baby, there are a few tricks you can try that requires minimum effort from you.
Below are 7 simple – yet creative ways and activities to make this experience more enjoyable.
- First of all, start small, with only a few minutes of tummy time at the time, 2-3 times a day. After your baby gets used to this new routine, you can gradually build on your baby exposure to tummy time. Eventually, aim for 1 hour of tummy time a day.
- You can start by having your baby lie tummy to tummy on your chest. This might be more comfortable for your baby than the floor or playmat, to begin with. She will not only exercise her core muscles, but as a bonus, she gets to look closely at your face. It is also a brilliant way to tighten the bond. Even better, you can make it skin-to-skin to further enhance this experience!
- Another fun way to give your baby tummy time is to hold her horizontally, head facing outwards with your arm supporting her tummy. When you carry your baby in this position, she enjoys a better view of her surroundings. You can give her a little tour around the house, showing her what everything is.
- Play an aeroplane game – my husband’s favourite. Simply lie down on your back, lift your baby above your head, tummy down, and zoom her around while making whooshing sounds. It’s so much fun!
- Sit with your baby tummy down across your lap. You can also rub her back and sway your legs gently from side to side.
- Use a nursing pillow to support your baby’s upper body in a semi-inclined position. I know it isn’t exactly tummy time, but hey, one step at a time. If you don’t have a nursing pillow, you could roll a towel to prop her chest up. With my older daughter, I used this method to help her become comfortable lying on her belly.
- Don’t forget to make tummy time enjoyable for your baby by providing some activities. For example, you could join your baby on the floor while talking and singing to her. Or show her high contrast objects and cards, let her look in the mirror, read a book, play peek-a-book or a musical toy. The choice is yours!
4. Benefits Of Tummy Time
If you are considering ditching tummy time because your little one dislikes it so much, please see this list of benefits tummy time can provide for your baby.
And remember, after a few days of consistent effort, your baby will start lifting her head up with these newly developed neck muscles!
- Improvement of core muscle strength. While the baby is lying flat on her stomach, her natural reaction is to lift her head and look around. Tummy time promotes muscle development in the upper body; neck, back, arms, legs and improve head control. These muscles are necessary for babies to move from side to side, push up on their shoulders and eventually roll over. Good development of upper body strength is also essential for a baby’s alertness and ability to focus.
- Sense of balance and coordination. When babies lie flat on their tummies and hold their heads up, their vestibular system is activated, giving them a sense of balance.
- Eye-tracking and vision development. This is because they practice holding their head still, which allow them to focus their eyes on an object and track its movement. They will see blurred images if they cannot control their head movement. As hands are among the first parts of the body a baby explores, this will help them develop hand-eye coordination.
- Prevents the development of skull deformation – positional plagiocephaly. Skull deformation was not a problem until the early 1990s. This is because babies slept on their tummies. That’s when the official safe sleep recommendation was changed, and babies were no longer safe sleeping on their fronts. Therefore, babies started to spend an awful lot of time in one position – on their backs. The result was a misshapen head and a flat spot on the back and sides of the head. But there is a quick fix to this problem. It can be prevented if babies spend time on their bellies during playtime.
- Prevents the development of neck muscle imbalance – positional torticollis. This condition occurs when the muscles of the baby’s neck become tight, causing the head to tilt to one side. In turn, lying on this side can lead to a flat head. This condition can be prevented by strengthening the core muscles during tummy time.
- Babies with digestive issues can also benefit from tummy time. As the baby lies on her belly, pressure is applied to the baby’s abdomen. This may help to relieve painful gas.
This should sort of answer your question about whether tummy time is a necessity or not. I totally get that it might be a daunting experience for a parent whose baby doesn’t like it.
For me, there is no doubt that your baby will greatly benefit from the time spent in that position. So it is worth every effort.
If your attempts to encourage tummy time in your baby won’t improve things within a week or so, perhaps you should consult your paediatrician for advice.
Final Few Lines
So the bottom line is if you haven’t started tummy time from the early days, the chances are your baby may hate it.
And I don’t blame her.
She is simply not used to this position, and her core muscles are too weak for her to raise her head and look around (plus nobody wants to lie flat with face down on the floor, right?).
But it is never too late to start tummy time.
I strongly believe, and I think you will agree as well, that the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.
Furthermore, with very little effort and a bit of creativity, you can turn tummy time into an enjoyable activity that both you and your baby will grow to love.