Tummy time should start from the first day of life. A simple way to start is during a diaper change. When you change your baby’s diaper, flip her over onto her belly for a few minutes, as soon as her first day of life.
Babies come out of the uterus with flexion contractures in their hips, knees, and ankles and in their elbows and wrists and hands too. As the musculature develops in infants, time spent on her belly aids in stretching these muscles. Tummy time also stretches the neck muscles that allow for rotation and ease of movement and helps her rest her cheek down on either side of her face. Second, extensor muscles develop their strength in this position to raise the head and upper chest and begin to develop head and trunk control in midline. Third, tummy time encourages a variety of positions for the baby to begin play and explore, and keep her off her skull, which can easily misshape. If a baby doesn’t spend enough time on her tummy sometimes a flat spot can develop (plagiocephaly) or the neck can get tight on one side (torticollis). For these reasons, it’s important to help a baby get comfortable on her tummy right away.
How do we do this when our baby cries every time we put her on her belly?
You can make tummy time the first position you put your baby in when putting her down, so she is not tired by the time you flip her over to her belly. You can also place her on a firm wedge or an incline to help her weight shift her body towards her pelvis and away from her head. This makes tummy time way easier. Finally, mom and dad can push her buttocks down into the support surface. It is the same concept as when someone holds your feet down during a sit up, pushing the baby’s tush down while she attempts to push up helps anchor her and give her more power.
As parents and caregivers it’s important to help facilitate and show babies how to accomplish milestones. It is ok to push your baby physically. A little moaning and grunting is good, but crying and distress is not necessary! If baby cries flip her over off her belly and try again. Try, and try again. Strong muscles developed in tummy time also help with feeding, sitting, and exploration of the environment.
Development is dynamic!
A baby that moves with typical motor milestones at 6 months also will be less likely to have delays in development of speech. Babies need to move to develop motor milestones, speech and language skills, and cognition for play. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 60-80 minutes of tummy time per day, cumulatively. Tummy time can happen on the floor but also can happen on your lap, on your chest, and in your arms. Babies that spend 60-80 minutes a day in their tummy develop motor milestones without delay. Be creative and have fun!
Engage with face to face connection on the floor, rub her back, and praise your baby’s hard work. It’s not easy, but well worth the effort. Tummy time should be an opportunity to play and enjoy time with your baby.
If your baby continues to struggle, reach out to a pediatric physical therapist for help. Sometimes just one or two sessions can make a world of difference.
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