3 Tips For Making Tummy Time Less Miserable

I've declared 2015 the year of Tummy Time and I have a New Years Resolution to fill this site with as much information and inspiration as it takes to get more babies blissful in belly-down play. (In case anyone reading ever doubts my claim to be a child development nerd, that resolution should suffice as adequate evidence.)

Why? Because Tummy Time promotes healthy development.

And because babies don't come with an instruction manual. (although my book Begin With A Blanket comes pretty close to an instruction manual for baby play!)

I don't think saying "do Tummy Time" is enough - it leaves parents under-equipped to make belly-down play a positive experience for their little one. And so they're left with two options - feel guilty for forcing their precious newborn into misery on a regular basis or feel riddled with guilt for not doing what doctors and parenting magazines insist is best for their child.  Not exactly a win-win is it? 

Simple ways to make Tummy Time a positive experience for your baby

Change the Way You Put Baby In Tummy Time

Begin Tummy Time with your baby on her back on a firm surface padded with a blanket or play mat. Have face-to-face time for a moment until your baby is comfortable and relaxed - in what's referred to as a quiet alert state.

Slowly roll baby onto her side and talk, sing, soothe, stroke her until she is again comfortable and relaxed. Slowly roll her onto her belly and continue your interactions with her. Babies often reflexively try to get their hands under or in front of their shoulders, and you can gently assist her with this movement. See a video of how to roll baby into Tummy Time.

Why It Works

Placing a baby straight onto her belly often backfires because it is alarming to her neurological system. For about the first 6 weeks of life, when held in the air belly-down a baby's head hangs lower than her chest (a phenomenon called the Landau Reaction). That means that her noggin will likely be the first thing to make contact with the surface beneath her. Even if that surface is padded and you're being gentle, that stimulus is alarming and often causes a startle reaction. Baby's vision is very primitive and developing in those early weeks so that sensory system isn't giving much warning about her position change.  Rolling from her back to her side to her belly will allow her to enter Tummy Time in a less threatening way. 

Change Your Toy Placement

It seems obvious that if you want your baby to lift her head, you place a toy in front of her. Right? Well, sort of. Placing a toy too far away from baby too soon is a recipe for frustration. The ideal spot to place a toy in Tummy Time is right where your baby can see it with her head lifted. But the tricky part is that his placement changes. In the early weeks, this is only a few inches from her face (top photo). This is one of the reasons why I recommend lots of Tabletop Tummy Time in the first month. As baby gets stronger, she can lift her head higher and view toys further away or higher up (middle and bottom photos).

3 Tips for Making Tummy Time Less Miserable - CanDo Kiddo

Why It Works

It's easy to assume that placing a toy just beyond where baby can comfortably lift her head to see would make her work harder to lift higher. But unfortunately, most babies just protest that hard work (translation: they cry). Your better bet is to keep a toy close enough for baby to comfortably look for a longer period of time. 

Change Your Tummy Time Paradigm

Tummy Time is not playtime. Tummy Time is a position for playtime. There needs to be a paradigm shift in how we think about and talk about Tummy Time. Instead of telling new parents to "DO Tummy Time," health professionals should be encouraging them to "Do play activities in Tummy Time,"and then offered suggestions.

It's simply not fair to expect new parents, groggy and buried in dirty diapers to dream up creative developmental activities for their newborns. Most are dreaming up creative ways to get food on the table several times a day and soap on their bodies at least once a week. Never fear - CanDo Kiddo is here to help!  Here are a few Tummy Time activities to get you started:

Tummy Time at the mirror
Roll Baby on a Ball
Tummy Time in the dark
Flashlight Tummy Time Play
Watching a floating bath toy in Tummy Time

Why It Works

Tummy Time is effortful for babies; it requires them to use muscles and movements that are new to them. Many babies resist this position unless they are deeply interested in exploring something while belly-down. Novel play ideas that match your baby's developmental level and interests are your best tools against Tummy Time tears. 

 In the early weeks and months, baby's playtime exploration is primarily through the senses of seeing and hearing (although the sensory benefits of Tummy Time extend far beyond these two senses). But the vast majority of baby toys are intended to be touched, grabbed or mouthed. With equal parts creativity, infant development know-how, and hands-on mommy experience, I wrote a new parent's guide to promoting baby milestones and learning through play. Learn more about Begin With A Blanket.