Written by SMH Mother-Baby Nurse Sheera Thomas
Babies need to be placed on their back to sleep and on their tummy to play. This playtime, aka “tummy time,” helps babies build strong muscles in their neck, shoulders and back, and helps prevent them from developing flat spots on the back of the head that are sometimes caused by lying on their backs for long periods. While the focus of tummy time is play, it also improves the motor skills baby will use for rolling, crawling and walking down the road.
For tummy-time fun, baby is placed on his/her tummy while awake and supervised. Babies can begin tummy time as early as their first day home from the hospital. For the first several tummy time sessions, place baby on his/her tummy for three to five minutes, two to three times a day. As baby grows and begins enjoying tummy time play, the length of time can be increased.
Not all babies are instant fans of tummy time, but it’s important to be consistent with it, so they can build their muscles and motor skills. Baby eventually will become accustom to it and enjoy it. Until then, try these tips to help baby find the fun in tummy time.
- Place a blanket or quilt in a clear area on the floor.
- After a diaper change or nap is a great time for tummy playtime.
- Sit in front of your baby during tummy time to encourage interaction and bonding.
- Lie on your back and place the baby on your chest. The baby will lift his/her head and use his/arms arms to try to see your face.
- Put a toy or toys within baby's reach while on his/her tummy; this helps baby learn to play and interact with his/her surroundings.
- Place toys in a circle around the baby. Reaching to different toys will allow him/her to develop the appropriate muscles to roll over, scoot on his/her belly and crawl.
- While keeping watch, have a young child play with the baby during tummy time. Young children can get down on the floor easily. They generally enjoy playing with babies and often enjoy the role of “big brother/sister” and “helper” for mom and dad.
For more practical tummy-time tips, check out these great resources from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the US Department of Health and Human Services.
SMH Mother-Baby Discharge Facilitator Sheera Thomas, RN, has been an OB nurse for more than 20 years. She is an internationally board-certified lactation consultant, a certified childbirth educator, and—perhaps her most demanding role—a mother of four.