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“Tummy time” – the period of time your infant spends on his or her belly, alert and playing – is very important for healthy growth and development.
Babies learn to support their heads and push themselves up (the basis for crawling) while on their stomachs.
Since it is now recommended that infants sleep on their backs to prevent SIDS, planned tummy time is even more crucial.
Knowing When to Do Tummy Time
Start tummy time immediately for a healthy, full-term baby.
If your baby was born at full term and has no major health problems, you can start tummy time as soon as you get home from the hospital or birth center – just remember not to put your baby on his or her stomach to sleep (this increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS).
Newborns will not be able to move much at first, so limit the time to a few minutes and watch carefully to make sure your baby is comfortable.
Some newborns may be uncomfortable on their stomachs before the umbilical stump falls off.
If this is the case, you can postpone tummy time for a few weeks.
Talk to your pediatrician if you have any concerns about putting your baby on his or her stomach.
If your baby was premature or has health problems, get a doctor’s approval before beginning tummy time.
And, as with all babies, do not put your baby on his or her stomach to sleep.
Choose the best time.
If you put a little thought into scheduling tummy time, you can maximize the odds that your baby will enjoy it.
Pick a time when your baby is alert, cheerful, and unlikely to be hungry, and consider building a routine by doing tummy time right after a diaper change.
You don’t want your baby to be hungry, but in general, it’s best not to schedule tummy time immediately after a feeding, either.
This could lead to spitting up.
Never do tummy time when you are putting your baby to sleep.
This should be a daytime, stimulating activity.
Getting Your Baby Into Position
Start with a familiar, comfortable position.
For newborns, you can begin by lying down yourself, on your back, and placing your baby on top of you, stomach to stomach.
Your newborn will feel comforted by your closeness and your heartbeat.
As your baby grows, you can start using a flat surface (a big bed or a blanket on the floor) instead.
Simply place your baby on his or her tummy on the flat surface; watch to be sure that your baby supports his or her head well.
Be sure to stay close by and keep a watchful eye throughout the duration of the tummy time.
Babies have to work harder when they are on their tummies, so they may fuss at first when placed face down.
Take it slow and pick up your baby if he or she starts crying or gets very upset.
Adjust the baby's arms.
Be sure that the arms are forward in a way that the baby could use them to prop her or himself up.
Babies with arms that are restrained or twisted backwards will not only be uncomfortable, but will be unable to reap the full benefits of tummy time.
Change the position.
If your baby gets fussy, you can try sitting down and lying him or her across your lap.
Keep one leg raised over the other, and put the baby’s head and shoulders on the elevated leg.
Then you can sing, talk, and rub the baby’s back.
You can also try holding your baby under your arm on his or her stomach (taking care to support the muscles until your baby can do so).
This isn’t as beneficial as true tummy time on a flat surface, though.
Prop your baby up.
If your baby cannot yet use his or her hands to push up, you can roll up a blanket and place it under the arms for support.
Babies sometimes enjoy this change of position.
You can also use a nursing pillow as a prop.
Increase the time slowly.
For very young newborns, you can start with just a minute or two at a time, then increase the time gradually, up to around an hour per day by the time your baby is four or five months old.
Your baby does not need to do an hour of tummy time all at once; it’s fine to break the time into several shorter segments.
Making Tummy Time Fun
Keep your baby company.
Don’t just place your baby on his or her stomach and walk away.
Instead, you can lie down, facing your baby, on your own stomach.
Then just talk, sing songs, make faces – whatever feels natural and keeps your infant entertained.
As your baby grows, you’ll want to add colorful toys to tummy time.
Try waving the toy in front of your infant’s head and moving it around; this will encourage your baby to lift his or her head, move it from side to side, and, eventually, to reach for the toy.
Don’t force the issue.
If your baby cries or protests, it’s fine to end tummy time prematurely.
The key is to offer your baby the chance to get accustomed to that position and exercise different muscles, not to force your baby through some rigid program.
Keep tummy time fun and interesting for your baby.
Watching for Milestones
Watch for your baby’s ability to lift his or her head.
By the end of the first month, your baby may be able to lift his or her head for a short time and move his or her feet a bit, as if crawling.
Look for head turning.
By two months, your baby may be able to hold his or her head up for a longer period of time and turn it to each side.
Pay attention to your baby’s balance.
By three months, your infant may be able to rest on the forearms and pelvis, especially with support from a blanket.
By four months, you may notice that your baby can balance well on his or her stomach, and by five months, you may see that he or she will reach for toys.
Watch your baby’s strength develop.
Your baby will get stronger and stronger over the first few months of his or her life.
By the end of the seventh month, your infant may be able to hold himself or herself up with one hand while reaching for a toy with the other.
Look for signs of mobility.
Some babies begin to crawl in the eighth or ninth month.
You may also see your baby start to pull up to something like a standing position.