Thanks to dedicated experts and research, we now know that the safest position for sleeping babies is on their back. But babies, who spend a lot of time lying down whether asleep or awake, need every opportunity to develop and strengthen their muscles. So the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies get “tummy time” -- your baby laying on his stomach -- every day to help his developing muscles grow strong. Here’s what you should know about it.
1. Tummy time is practice for crawling, and it can prevent flat head syndrome Your baby on his stomach is another opportunity for him to explore the world from a different point of view. This position strengthens his upper-body muscles that don’t get used when your baby is lying down on his back. Think of it as prep and practice when your baby is ready to roll over and crawl on her own.
“The experience of being on their tummy helps babies learn to push up, roll over, sit up, crawl, and pull to a stand,” Dr. Danette Glassy, a pediatrician and chairperson of the AAP’s committee on early education and childcare, told BabyCenter.
Also, preventing “flat head” is another benefit of tummy time. Flat head syndrome is when the baby develops a flat spot, usually on the back or side of the head, typically caused by a baby lying down in the same position for prolonged periods of time. “It does not harm brain development,” clarifies KidsHealth, and your baby’s head will plump back up. But tummy time provides an easy way to prevent this from happening in the first place.
2. Even newborns should get tummy time. Tummy time is done two to three times a day beginning on the first day you bring your little one home from the hospital, according to AAP. For newborns, tummy time lasts for only a short period, between three to five minutes. “As babies grow older and stronger they will need more time on their tummies to build their strength,” said the AAP.
Add a few more minutes at a time once you see that your little one starts to get comfortable on his belly. “For a 3- to 4-month-old baby, some research suggests aiming for at least 20 minutes of tummy time a day,” Dr. Jay L. Hoecker, a pediatrician and fellow of the AAP, said in a column for Mayo Clinic.
A great period for tummy time is right after a nap, a diaper change, or a bath. It should be done when your baby is alert and awake -- not tired or hungry. You shouldn’t put him on his tummy when he’s just fed as well because this can be uncomfortable for him, said BabyCenter. After feeding, wait about an hour to avoid spit-ups and infant acid reflux. Your baby should always be supervised during tummy time.
3. It can take a while for your baby to get used to it. Your baby might not take to being put down on his tummy right away. After all, it can be unfamiliar and physically be challenging. “It's hard work for your baby to keep his head up when he's on his tummy, and he can't see much of anything down there. He may even feel abandoned,” said BabyCenter. But, with a little time and encouragement, your baby will soon enjoy playing in this position.
4. You can start with laying him down on your stomach. For you and baby’s first tummy time sessions, you can start by going tummy-to-tummy. Lay your baby down on your chest, so your tummies are touching. It can be an excellent way to bond as well as you get physically close to each other and feel each other’s temperature and breathing. “Newborns love to lay on a parent and gaze up at their face,” pediatrician Dr. Wendy Wallacetold WebMD.
You can then move on to tummy time on a mat on the floor or bed with you still being within his gaze. “Tummy time can initially be scary because it's new,” said Wallace. “Getting down on the ground and doing face-to-face encouragement will reassure a baby that he can do it and it's OK.”
5. Tummy time can be playtime. There are a lot of ways you can make tummy time fun for your baby. Try placing a toy or board book nearby that your baby can reach to play. “You can also offer her a little unbreakable mirror in which to admire herself when she looks down, or play a musical mobile to encourage her to pull her head up,” Anita Sethi, a consulting research scientist at the Child and Family Policy Center at New York University, said in a column for Parenting.
You can get ate or kuya to play on the floor too to encourage bunso (with you supervising, of course). And, mom or dad, you are still the best entertainers. Make funny faces, play peekaboo, shake his rattle or read him a story on the floor. He’ll love it! (If he still doesn’t, don’t worry. You can try again tomorrow.)