Let’s get one thing clear before we begin, shall we? You do NOT have to let your baby cry in tummy time. I want tummy time to be enjoyable for everyone involved! And I have the secret sauce to make that dream a reality. You might be thinking, “Sure, you do. It’s your job.” But I promise you, these simple tweaks are something anyone can do!
Tummy time doesn’t have to be hard!
We’ve all been there: sleep-deprived and sore, sitting in our baby’s first pediatrician appointment. We’re trying to understand everything they tell us about feedings, safe sleep, bathing, and immunizations. Then they throw in those two words: tummy time. We are told tummy time is crucial but not the how or the why. So we go home and we place our babies on their tummies. And they scream. And suddenly, we have one more thing to worry about. One more dreaded item on our daily to-do list that is never complete. And one more place for feeling defeated as a new parent.
It doesn’t have to be this way! With these tips, you will feel empowered with a plan for purposeful play that will have your babe cruising through their motor milestones with ease. Tummy time will transform from a torture session into a bright spot in your day. And you can cross one worry off your never-ending list.
Why is tummy time important?
Before we dive in, I want to mention the WHY behind tummy time. With the dawn of the Back to Sleep campaign, we saw a sharp decline in SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).1 However, there is a striking increase in the prevalence of developmental delay, Torticollis (neck tightness), and Plagiocephaly (flat head syndrome).
Parents grew fearful of EVER placing their baby on their belly, even for supervised play. This meant they weren’t getting adequate freedom of movement necessary for motor development. This also meant formerly belly-sleeping babies were missing out on anywhere from 12-18 hours per day on their tummy, and we somehow had to make up for it. “Tummy time” was the solution to this problem. But health care providers are still navigating how to educate parents. So now that you know the WHY, let’s dig into the HOW:
How to Make Tummy Time Easy & Fun
Build it into your daily routines.
I know you’re probably thinking, “WHAT routines?” Life can be crazy with a newborn, and schedules can seem more of a theory than a practice. I’m not asking you to create a regimented baby boot camp. Instead, use your natural daily rhythms to build in tummy time.
One of my favorite ways to do this is to roll your baby to their tummy after each diaper change. This serves as a reminder for you to play with them this way and allows your baby to grow to expect it. When a baby begins observing and acknowledging a routine, there is much less fear around it. And less fear = more enjoyment! And bonus points for that roll, which begins developing a motor plan for your baby to learn to roll on their own.
Take gravity out of the equation.
A newborn is used to being a little fish in your tummy, with amniotic fluid and your placenta supporting them. All of the changes of this bright new world, including gravity, are things your baby has to adjust to on their own time. While we can’t eliminate gravity, we can reduce its effect on tummy time.
Use your chest as a tummy time landing pad in the first couple of weeks of life. Lie back against your couch, kick your feet up, and allow your body to rest while you encourage your sweetie to lift their head to see you. As the weeks pass, lower yourself down more and more to make your baby work harder to see their favorite thing: YOU. Not only does this help with motor development, but it can also be used during skin-to-skin time, which has endless benefits for both parent and babe.
Make it fun!
You might be surprised to find out your tiny bundle of joy can’t see more than a few inches away from their face for the first weeks of life. They cannot see any object very clearly until around six months! The two most highly motivating things for a baby to see are:
- You: Try placing them on a couch cushion with your hand on them for safety and getting eye-to-eye. They will love feeling like they are a part of your world and able to see what you do. Talk to them, kiss them, sing to them, whatever!
- High-contrast objects: Think black, white, and red. These three colors are easy for little eyes to see and interesting to explore.
Make floor time a priority.
You heard me right: floor time. Free play on a flat surface is a huge part of your baby’s development. If your baby is used to being cozied up in bouncers and swings and infant seats and activity tables all day, tummy time on a flat surface will be a shock. If you try to make floor play your first priority during wake times, you can have the freedom to use baby containers when you need them!
An excellent general rule is to get twice as much floor or flat surface play as you do time in baby equipment. This flat surface doesn’t always have to be the floor, though. Supervised playtime in their crib, bassinet, or Pack’n’Play can be an option. Setting up a baby-proofed space blocked off by a playard is another great spot. On their tummy on the couch with a hand on them for safety is a fun way to switch it up. Get creative!
With these tips in place, tummy time blues will become a thing of the past. But remember to give yourself and your baby grace. This whole new parent thing is HARD. Being a baby and getting used to life outside Mama is HARD. Tummy time is important, but it isn’t the only thing. Holding your baby, talking to your baby, feeding your baby, singing to your baby, playing with your baby: those are all really important things too. So if you feel defeated at the end of a long day, remember that the love you’re giving them and yourself can move mountains, my friend. You got this.