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Does Tummy Time Matter?

Right from your baby’s birth you will have advice and information about tummy time. This can be quite prescriptive in terms of how much and how often, or just a vague ‘do some tummy time every day’. You might also be told how important this is for your baby’s development and particularly for head control and strengthening neck muscles.


The reality is that most babies really don’t want to do tummy time when they are very new and it can become really stressful for new parents trying to do tummy time. Partly because their baby cries after a minute or two and partly because a newborn isn’t really awake all that much except for feeds and nappy changes! The result of which is usually giving up because no one wants to do something that makes their baby cry!


So does it really matter if you do tummy time every day? Or at all?


Well, yes it does. The benefits of tummy time extend far beyond strengthening neck muscles and your baby being able to hold their head up. If you have a baby that is struggling with tummy time don’t panic just yet! Read on for why it matters but also hopefully some reassurance and ideas to help you.


Before the 1990s when the ‘back to sleep’ campaign was launched to (very successfully) reduce cot death rates, most babies would have been placed in their cot to sleep on their tummy. This meant a lot of natural tummy time as they went to sleep and when they woke up. They would have wriggled on their tummy and looked around their cot until they wanted a parent to come. When the switch was made to babies sleeping on their back this tummy time was lost and a few year later effects on development were being noticed. This was mostly around the gross motor skills – things like sitting and crawling. As a result parents were encouraged to incorporate tummy time into their baby’s day.


The benefits of tummy time are really wide ranging. It might seem obvious that your baby will lift their head and gain better control or that they will push and wriggle their legs which might be their precursor to commando crawling, or pushing up to all fours. If they aren’t really on their tummy they don’t get chance to practice these skills. Of course we can’t judge how much one individual baby is affected and it might not make much difference to some but looking at bigger studies with lots of babies there does seem to be an impact on the age they hit milestones.


When your baby is on their tummy they will try and lift their head and move it around. To start with this they won’t get very far with this but gradually they will get better and be able to see around themselves. This will strengthen their neck, back and core muscles, help them with their balance and co-ordination, help visual tracking, and hand-eye co-ordination as they start to reach for things in front of them.


As babies grow and get stronger they can spend more time on their tummy pushed up on their arms and then gradually they are able to play with toys in this position which allows them to work on depth perception, grasping and holding items. With time they will progress to pushing or rolling toys as well. Suddenly tummy time is much more fun!


There are also benefits to some other things such as strengthening the jaw and tongue function which will help breastfeeding, and aiding with digestion and discomfort.


So all sorts of muscles are helped – neck, back, core, arms, hands, jaw (probably more!) – plus lots to help eyes, co-ordination and balance. Tummy time really does a lot to help your little one learn and develop.


What, when and how?


Tummy time isn’t always easy. For newborns a face plant on the carpet isn’t fun, quite understandably they aren’t going to manage more than a few seconds there. But they will happily lie on your chest and gaze up at you. Or hang out in a sling for a while, or maybe rest across your knees while you rub or pat their back. Tummy time does not have to be lying flat on the floor. In these early days a few minutes is all you would expect and ideally you would do that a few times a day.


After a few weeks, when your baby is a bit more awake and might be more happy being put down, you could try them on the floor. You can prop them up a bit with a rolled up blanket or cushion and lie face to face so they can see you. If this is still tricky go back to having them on your knee so they feel safe and connected.


Once they are happy on the floor you can start to have more fun; peekaboo, toys, rolling balls around.


The information around how much tummy time is varied and honestly probably gives more stress than help for lots of people. Try and do tummy time a few times every day and gradually increase the time. Each session might not be the same, you might find there is a time when 5 minutes is possible but at other times of day 2-3 minutes is your max. Go with your baby’s flow and if it isn’t happening, either cut things short or try a different way.


As a rough guide around 2 months you are looking at approx. 3-5 minute sessions which will grow to 10-15 minutes at around 4 months. By 4-6 months you can aim for 1-2 hours in total through your day.


Keep tummy time fun with toys to explore and if lie with your baby it is also a great chance to bond and connect with them. Maybe time for a chat?


If your baby doesn’t enjoy tummy time just work with what you can do. It might be on your chest or propped up on the floor and it might only be a minute or two but keep with it and you will see improvements. As with all development don’t compare your baby to others but if you are worried have a chat with your health visitor.


If you are local to me, come and join a baby class! We do some tummy time in classes and often mums say their baby does longer in class than they would at home. There is so much more to see and do when your friends are all around you! And yes, we do sometimes do that!

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