Tummy time. Pediatric PT’s love to talk about this and most new parents have a love hate relationship with it. They hear that it’s important but their baby hates it and it’s hard for them to fit it in. Because babies sleep on their backs to prevent SIDS, the recommendations for tummy time is 60 cumulative minutes throughout the day to prevent flattening of the skull as well as to allow for strengthening of muscles that are important for development. As you’ll see in the video below I made a confession, until I was a new mom I didn’t truly realize how hard it could be to find 60 minutes in the day to get tummy time in. So I decided to share some tips and tricks that I have used both as a PT and as a new mom!
- Start on Day 1 – The earlier you start the easier it can be for them to tolerate this position. If you look at the photo above you can see that they don’t have to be working super hard for it to count. This position has them off the back of their head and their muscles of their back are against gravity. If you are reading this and your baby is older than 1 day, it’s not too late. Start now!
- Short Increments – Don’t think of tummy time as a marathon. Do it in short bursts. It can be a minute or two here and there throughout the day. Depending on your tolerance for your baby getting upset, you can decide how long to leave them. Which takes us to number 3.
- A Little Fussing is Okay – I am ok with a little bit of fussing but not everyone is. I think the frustration helps them to build their muscles and develop skills, but I watch for escalation because that can be counter productive. As you do this in small increments then their tolerance can build up to longer periods of time.
- Lie on your Chest and/or Shoulder – Having them lie on your chest or putting their head on your shoulder counts! So not only do you get to bond with your baby (you can use this as skin to skin time too) but you get to work on tummy time. They are off the back of their head and they are working their muscles against gravity. You can also change the angle at which you are holding them. The more upright you are the easier it is for them, the more reclined you are the more they have to work. But just like in the photo above, early on, just resting in this position is good for them.
- Use an Elevated Surface – Putting something like a Boppy pillow or a towel roll under their chest can help them be more successful with tummy time. It makes it a little easier because they don’t have to work as hard against gravity as they do when they are flat on the ground.
- Get on their Level – When you can, get down at their level so you are eye to eye with them. They like to look at faces, especially their parents! It can be soothing as well as motivating and hold their interest for longer periods of time. You can also use rattles and visuals but a lot of time your face can be enough. Talk to them, engage with them. It works on other areas of development as well.
- Support at Their Bottom – In all areas of working on tummy time, if you place your hand on their bottom or lower trunk, you are giving them some extra support as well as controlling their degrees of freedom to make it easier to access their muscles. They don’t have to figure out how to stabilize their bottom as well as extend their back and neck, they can just focus on lifting the head.
- Football Carry – Football carry is great. You can use this position while you are walking around or even while you are soothing a fussy baby. You can see me do it in the video but basically you rest them on your arm on their belly with their head close to your elbow and your arm going down their trunk and your hand holding them at their bottom/outer leg. I know it’s hard to picture but check out the video. (see photo below)
- Therapy Ball – This is another favorite of mine because you can change the amount of gravity they have to work against as well as give them support at their bottom/lower trunk. You can also move it forward and backward and side to side to help encourage activation of other muscles. You can bounce it a little to distract them or be in front of a mirror or another person to help keep them engaged and motivated.
- Baby Wearing – There are so many baby carriers out there, find one that works for you and use this to also find some time to have them off their back. This is where I have been able to get my biggest increments of time in! Plus you can do things at home hands free or get out and about in the community.
For things like the football carry and resting on the shoulder, make sure you are changing sides so they are on your left and right sides equally. Also, if they still aren’t actively lifting their head, make sure you are aware of what side their head is turned to and try to encourage them to rest with their head facing the left and the right equally.
Hopefully these tips will help you get in that 60 minutes a day! If you have any tips and tricks, please share them!