The safest position for sleeping babies is on their back. But babies need every opportunity to develop and strengthen their muscles. So it is advisable to let your baby get some “tummy time” — your baby laying on his stomach — every day to help his developing muscles grow strong.
Here’s what you should know:
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.
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 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 new-borns, 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.
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. New-borns love to lay on a parent and gaze up at their face.
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. 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.
Moms and dads, you are still the best entertainers to your child. Do spend time playing with your baby on the floor, as it can be a very enjoyable process.
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