Tummy time: A workout for your baby

Start your infant off on an active life with a strategy to build essential physical skills.

Schedule tummy time to help your baby's head, neck and shoulder muscles develop. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Schedule tummy time to help your baby's head, neck and shoulder muscles develop. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Say “tummy time” to most, and they will think of food. But tummy time for infants is a physical, must have development. Most parents today know that their infants need to be put to sleep lying on the backs, so as to reduce the likelihood of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). This means that baby doesn’t get to practice moving around on his stomach or lifting his head. So, to give your child the opportunity to develop their head, neck and shoulder muscles, you need to schedule tummy time into their day.

You can start when they are a newborn with a few minutes per day, a few times per day. Michigan State University Extension says that by the time they are 3- to 4-months-old, most pediatricians suggest about 20 minutes of tummy time per day. You don’t have to do it all at once. Breaking it up into four or five minute sessions might work better for you and your baby. Many parents have found that placing their baby on a blanket on the floor and then laying down near their head works well. The parents’ job is to encourage baby to lift their head and then turn their head from side to side. You can do this by talking to your baby to get her attention, getting them to focus on a toy or your face and then slowly lifting the toy or your face higher in the air. As their gaze follows the toy or face, they will attempt to lift their head. It will only be a slight movement of the head at first. But after a few weeks, your child’s neck and shoulder muscles will grow stronger and they will be able to move their head further and further off of the surface. Try to encourage your child to do a little more each day.

The practice of lifting and steadying their head will give them the strength in their neck and shoulders to balance their head more steadily when upright. Soon baby will be able to push themselves up onto their forearms and then to their hands. These skills will enable them to hold themselves steady for feeding and, in the not too distant future, sit upright. Before they can do that, however, they might enjoy grasping a toy in one hand as they hold their head up, so be sure to have some easy to hold toys handy when they start pushing their self up on their hands.

If your baby fusses a lot at first, keep the sessions short. You don’t want to frustrate or upset your child. But, don’t give up too easily – just slow down. Like many other things in life, it takes practice over time to build muscle strength. You might also think about the timing of tummy time. If it is too soon after a meal, your baby might feel uncomfortable trying tummy time with a full tummy. If your child has acid reflux or is sensitive to lying on his stomach, consult your pediatrician as to how to address tummy time for your child. Of course, an adult will always need to be present to supervise an infant in a prone (on their tummies) position.

Tummy time is part of a healthy physically active life for your child. In infancy, children are very motivated to build their physical skills and explore their environment. It’s good to know that, as parents, we can start them off on the right – uh, tummy!

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