Ohhh, tummy time! Sometimes my babies liked it and somedays they didn’t want it. They loved it when I got right down at eye level while they were having floor time, but I did a lot of it with them on my stomach/chest looking up at me as well. What do you do if your baby really hates tummy time? Do you have to force it? Are there other options? These are all questions I get from new parents, so I reached out to Occupational Therapist, Dima Alsakka for her help in answering. Here is what she had to say….
What is the purpose of tummy time?
Tummy time helps the baby engage muscles of the neck and the upper body. When babies are placed on their tummy, they use their arms and neck to left their head and rotate it sideways. This improves the strength and control of their head and upper body. Having good head control and upper body strength is an essential skill to develop other motor skills such as rolling and sitting.
Why do some babies hate tummy time?
Most babies I have seen hate tummy time. Babies hate tummy time because most well meaning parents will put a baby down on their tummy and leave them there, and a baby feels stuck as they cannot get themselves out of this position. I never recommend that parents do that. There are a lot more gentle and play-based approaches to helping a typically developing baby achieve gross-motor milestones.
So should parents still be doing tummy time with their baby, what can they do instead?
For healthy, typically-developing babies, I no longer recommend that parents give their baby tummy time. I find that tummy time is a perceived stressor amongst new parents. So instead, I educate families on how to provide their typically-developing baby with an environment that stimulates their gross motor and cognitive development. The best way to help a baby improve their strength and develop motor skills is to give them free playtime on the floor, and minimize the time a baby spends in a physically restricting device such as a swing or a jumper. This is absolutely essential, especially for older babies.
When a baby (3- 4 months or older) is placed on their back, most will attempt to propel themselves on to their side to reach a toy or to look at their parent. You can use rattle toys to encourage your baby to turn sideways and reach for them. If they do roll over, they will then try to look up and roll back. This provides an infant with an opportunity to learn to engage different muscle groups, and to practice executing different motor patterns that will lead to learning a new skill such as rolling back and forth.
What if a parent worries their child is not trying to roll and seems to lack strength.
There are many ways to make tummy time easier and more fun:
You can have your baby do tummy time on your chest instead of the floor. Lie down on the sofa or on your bed and put your baby on your chest. Use rattles or shakers to encourage them to rotate their head sideways. This is often way less stressful for parent and baby, and offers an opportunity for bonding.
If you choose to do tummy time on the floor, I recommend placing a pillow or rolled blanket underneath your baby’s chest. This will give them extra support, and may make tummy time more tolerable.
Many babies start rolling as young as two or three months, but some won’t begin rolling until five or six months. If you are worried about your baby not rolling, you can start by placing them in a side-lying position with a pillow or rolled blanket placed behind them during awake time (not cribtime). This helps give the baby extra support to encourage them to roll fully on their stomach.
Dima has been an OT since 2013 and started Bumblebee OT in 2017. She is passionate about helping families of young children improve their quality of life, which is why her services adopt a gentle and family-centred approach to care. Part of this is providing all of her services in the comfort of her clients’ homes or in the child’s daily environment such as daycare or school.As a mom of two vibrant and vivacious little ones, Dima knows how busy young families are. Her goal is to empower the parents and caregiver to take control of their child’s needs and goals.