I am sure by now that you will have heard about tummy time, especially if you have done any postnatal or baby classes. What do we mean by "tummy time" and why is it important? Let's find out more...
Why do babies need Tummy Time?
Put simply, tummy time helps babies to strengthen the muscles in their back, neck and core. These are extremely useful muscles, which we need in order to carry out activities from rolling to walking and everything in between, including sitting, eating, crawling and getting up and down. It also helps your baby learn more about their body, including awareness of where it is in space (proprioception) and balance (vestibular). In the womb, and after birth, babies naturally curl up into a C shape, but as they get older their spine naturally develops the S-shaped curve that we have as both children adults. Tummy time also aids this process. It can also be fun! Many young babies do not seem to enjoy tummy time (more on that shortly), but it can give babies a different view on the world, helping them to explore, and also encourage them to reach for objects and start moving towards them.
The extra pressure on baby's tummy can also help with digestion, as it's similar to giving a gentle massage. For the same reason though, you might not want to do it straight after a feed!
How can I include tummy time in our day?
First of all, it's important to remember that tummy time does not just mean putting your baby down on the floor. Younger babies especially might feel insecure, and often cannot lift their heads very well. Babywearing and holding your baby on you, on their tummy or in a more upright position, also encourage the same muscles to develop. Tiger in the Tree hold (where baby is lying along your arm) also does the same thing, and at the same time you can include movement which, along with the close contact, can help baby to feel secure and calm. You can read more about babywearing in the B blog here.
With regards to lying on the floor, it can help to think of tummy time as part of play, rather than as a separate activity. If your baby is awake and happy then it's a good time to try! At first, your baby might only tolerate a few minutes, which is fine! Just build up gradually. It might take a little while before your baby can comfortably lift their head, so for those younger babies in particular, using a rolled up blanket or towel to support their upper body can make things a bit comfortable for them. You can buy commercial tummy time pillows that have patterns and toys on them, but they're not really necessary. You could even use a breastfeeding cushion if you have one. Give them something interesting to look at or reach for, or get down on the same level with them so they can see and hear you. You could sing to them, clap, play little games etc. to keep it engaging. Once they start breaking eye contact or getting fidgety, they've probably had enough and at that point you can stop.
An hour a day of tummy time is a great amount to aim for, but it definitely does not need to be in one go, and don't forget those other things that count as well including babywearing and tiger in the tree. A baby yoga class or other classes aimed at baby development will almost certainly include some kind of activity to encourage tummy time, and also has a lovely social aspect for you, so perhaps have a look at what's going on in your area.