Fort Worth, Texas,
15:11 PM

Tummy time troubles?

Expert offers 5 tips to help

“We try to put her on her tummy to play, but she just cries! It breaks my heart!”

I hear this almost daily as a pediatric physical therapist. However, tummy time is more important than ever these days.

Our babies today tend to have more time on their backs than on their tummies. The Back to Sleep Campaign instructs parents to place children on their backs in their cribs to prevent SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). We also have car seats that transport easily into shopping carts and strollers, bouncy seats, swings and rockers. Even when babies are nursing or taking a bottle, they are held in a parent’s arms, essentially on their back. All of this leads to decreased tummy time. But if we have all of these safety precautions and modern conveniences, then why make a baby cry on her tummy?

  • Tummy time promotes neck and trunk strengthening for head control. It can be a baby’s first workout.
  • Tummy time prevents babies from getting a flat spot on the back of their heads. These flat spots can lead to changes in head shape, facial appearance, and jaw alignment. In more significant cases, children may require the use of a special helmet to reshape their head. In tummy time, babies are taking pressure off the back of their heads and learning to move.
  • Tummy time allows a baby to visually explore their surroundings.
  • Babies learn to move, roll and reach side to side while on their tummies. These are all the first steps to bigger things like walking, running and climbing.
  • In tummy time, babies push up on their hands and arms. They are building strength in their shoulders and hands. This time in weight bearing plays into handwriting, gripping and sensory development.

Tips for Tummy Time

Tummy time is not always easy, but there are definitely ways to help make it a success.

1. Start early. Even newborn babies can play on their tummies. It’s never too soon to let babies learn to explore on their tummies, getting that sensation of weight bearing on their stomachs, pushing with their hands and toes.

2. Build them up! If your baby is having a hard time lifting their head up, you can lay them on your chest while you are reclined on the couch. You can also place a rolled up blanket or towel under their chest to lift them a little and help make it easier for them. As they build their neck strength and head control, you can try laying them flat on their tummies again.

3. Get on the floor with them! Infants of all ages love faces. Especially the faces of those who care for them. A child will follow and respond to a caring face at a younger age than they will a toy. Getting on the floor with them and talking with them will often help them stay on their bellies longer without fussing.

4. Perform tummy time frequently. To start, a few minutes of tummy time after every diaper change is great. Each day, try to add 5 more minutes to their tummy time practice. With these short but frequent times, they will begin to build their strength and tolerance for tummy time.

5. Don’t give up! As tummy time becomes part of a baby’s routine, they will gain strength and learn to move and explore. Once it’s part of a baby’s routine, his strength will build quickly. He will be getting all of the wonderful benefits of moving, exploring, feeling and seeing the world from his tummy. And watch out! You might soon find that your baby actually loves being on his tummy!

About the author

Carrie Carney is a physical therapist at Cook Children's. Physical therapy focuses on large motor and functional skills to enhance development restore function and prevent disability from pediatric conditions, illness or injury. Cook Children's offers Rehabilitation Services in Fort Worth, Hurst and Mansfield.

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