As an occupational therapist and a parent of two little ones, I have heard and said the phrase “tummy time” more often that I can count. Before I began my stay-at-home momming, I worked in pediatrics, which involved work in the early intervention program. I LOVED getting the little babies on my caseload. I love babies anyway, but getting to teach parents ways to help their children develop just by adding small positions and reasonable activities through their day was so rewarding.
Part of being an occupational therapist is figuring out what is reasonable for a client and their family to achieve within their daily routines. As a fresh new OT with no children of my own yet, I had ideas of grandeur about what was possible during a parent and child’s day. For example, I remember recommending baby massage at each diaper change. . . Diaper changes are like a NASCAR pitstop around here! No time for spa treatments! I have learned a lot since then!! Now that I’ve had my second kid, I realize the challenges that a parent of multiple children may have when trying to fit in any sort of exercise program into their already busy day. So, I would like to periodically share ideas on how to integrate activities to help your children into your daily life! These will generally be activities that take next to zero time to set up and will make a minimal mess. These activities will span from newborn to elementary school as we go on, but we’re going to start with the baby stuff today! Baby steps, right? 😉
Let’s get back to the subject of our title: Tummy Time!
Most of the times that I’ve heard the phrase “tummy time,” it has been preceded by another phrase. . . “my baby hates. . .” It becomes a time of torture for the babies and their parents while they just try to do what they are told the baby needs. I have worked with families in the past who have been told that their child needs tummy time to develop muscles, but they weren’t told how to achieve that or why it is important.
Why is it so important?
Babies are supposed to sleep on their backs, so it is important for parents to make sure they get enough time on their bellies during waking hours to help strengthen the shoulders, neck, and back. No pressure, but the strength that they are developing in their upper bodies is the foundation for SO MANY skills. Pushing up on elbows leads to pushing up on hands, which leads to crawling, which leads to pulling up on furniture, which leads to walking with support, which leads to getting into literally everything in your house. . . It helps babies get a new perspective on the world when in this position, which is great for visual and vestibular development. Additionally, it helps to prevent positional plagiocephaly. Mama OT has a great post about the importance of tummy time from an OT’s perspective as well as 7 great ways to incorporate it into your day.
How do I fit it in my day?
The American Occupational Therapy Association has a tip sheet on various activities you can complete with your baby. I’m here to tell you that getting a lot of prone positioning does not have to be intimidating! You can do it! Even if this is your youngest baby in a house full of children who like to come perilously close to the baby. My biggest realization about tummy time is that it does not have to look like I had always seen in books and articles. I had in my head that it had to be time lovingly penciled into a schedule where baby was placed on a fresh blanket on the floor, surrounded by engaging, but not overstimulating toys, a mirror, with mom or dad on their stomach face to face with baby. Haha, oh that sounds so nice, but let’s be real, it’s probably not going to happen every day.
There are so many ways that you can get your baby on his or her belly, and most importantly, off his or her back!
Tummy to tummy!
Just like it sounds- get your baby’s tummy on yours! Get cozy on the couch or a recliner (But not so cozy that you fall asleep with the baby! That’s a big no!) and make the silliest faces and sounds that you can possibly do! That sweet little peanut will have great motivation to lift her head up, look at you, and wonder what in the world you are doing. If silly isn’t your thing, just talk your your baby. Tell them about the great sale going on at Macy’s, summarize the latest episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, recite the grocery list, it doesn’t matter, they just want to hear you.
Use the changing table!
Once you get done with the 14th diaper of the day, help your baby roll to their belly so they’re looking off the side. Recruit an older sibling to play peekaboo with the baby while you’re keeping baby safe on the changing pad. This also works in the crib. Put baby on their belly and you and the older kiddo can play peekaboo with baby as he or she looks through the slats!
Pull out that exercise ball!
I don’t have an exercise ball, but if I did, I would definitely use it to get baby acclimated to being on his belly. I used it many times during home visits. In my experience, some babies like when they aren’t quite so horizontal on their stomachs. You can gradually work them from a 45 degree angle to horizontal through gentle rocking. This is another instance where the older sibling can play peekaboo!
Give them chores!
Kidding! But seriously, I tried to use laundry time as tummy time. Wherever I would fold laundry (my bed, the living room floor), I would take the baby and a blanket and his Boppy-style pillow, and get him set up. On my bed, I’d put him prone on the pillow with his arms supporting him and I’d talk to him while I folded a few towels. Once he got irritated, I’d put him in a new position, then tell him about how great this new detergent is working. If we were folding laundry on the living room floor, I would put him on his belly on a blanket with some toys scattered around (That his sister generally confiscated), or across my lap. To me, it was a better alternative to sticking him in a swing all the time.
Let me know what you think!
What are some ways you incorporate tummy time into your day? I’d love to hear from you!