The Great Tummy Time Debate

Many of my mummies and daddies who send their children to Shannon ChildCare ask me probing questions and when I decided to start my blog, I thought about what parents ask about the most.  Without doubt, I have daily requests for understanding why babies and children need “tummy time”.

Firstly, it’s a good idea to remind ourselves that we are advised by the Government to place newborns on their back as this reduces the risk of cot death.  I completely agree with complying with this and would never advise any mother to place their newborn baby or young baby on their front to sleep as there is no question that sleeping on their backs does help minimise the risk.  However, this does not mean that they should spend no time at all on their fronts. As long as your baby is supervised at all times and not left in this position for long periods of time at once, it is completely safe and good for their development.

This position is not just for babies, it’s important for all children to experience this position from an early age as it plays a major factor in physical development. It visibly strengthens spatial awareness, a child’s arms, shoulders and neck muscles as well as working the core muscles in the stomach. Plus research has shown lack of time spent laying on the tummy can affect a child’s written skills later on.

You may find that your baby is so used to being on their back that they become fractious or uncomfortable when placed on their tummy. This is not because they are in pain but because they are not used to this position.  Listen out for your baby’s cry – they sound different if they are cross, want your attention or are in pain.  The more you put them on their tummies, the more comfortable they will be with this position.  I am only suggesting a few minutes a day to begin with; especially when they are really tiny because they can’t yet lift their heads for a long time, however, by using this position regularly as mentioned it does strengthen neck muscles, upper body muscles and arm muscles which are needed for good physical development.  It also helps prevent flat head syndrome, where the baby may develop a flat spot on one area of its head due to laying in the same position.

There are many ways to make lying on a tummy more fun and interesting for baby.  Why not buy some crunchy, textured material so they can feel it and enjoy the noises it makes.  Reflective materials are great as well; babies will delight in the visual display that they can see before them!  Place toys around them, so that they can easily grab/reach their favourite things.  As your baby gets a little older, around the 4 month mark, put some toys slightly out of reach so that they have to stretch out to reach them – excellent exercise.  If you find your baby really dislikes being on their tummy on the floor, you can always put them across your knees although the floor is much better.  Get down to their level, they will enjoy having you with them and “playing” with them.  Is the floor comfortable?  Is it soft?  Use carpet, rugs, playmats, make sure it’s warm and ask yourself if you’d like to be on that very same floor.  In other words, make sure it’s inviting.  A freezing cold tiled floor is not a good idea.  A warm and toasty carpet is bound to be more interesting and comfortable for your baby.  Finally – do not leave your baby alone while they are on their tummies!

Tummy time not only builds muscles, it also encourages your baby to crawl.  You will find that once your baby is holding their head up properly and pushing up on their forearms, they will soon start pushing forward with their legs which will lead to crawling. I must mention that many babies start crawling backwards before they move forwards – you might find your little one stuck in a corner somewhere! Crawling (forwards or backwards) can happen as early as 6 months and as late as 12 months so don’t get too hung up on when your baby crawls but do be assured that tummy time helps reach this milestone.

Early tummy time is paramount for your child’s dexterity too.  Strong arm muscles and upper body strength can lead to good, solid mark making later on, and transfer to easy writing skills.  This is because hands and arms have become strong and therefore hold a pencil or crayon firmly thus making good, firm marks on paper.  Children who don’t enjoy tummy time at an early age often find writing hard, sometimes painful and may need to do further exercises when they start school.  At every age, children should lay on their fronts so encourage toddlers and children to do puzzles while laying on their tummy and also use this position when watching TV.  Just by resting their head in their hands while being on their front is strengthening the forearm and upper torso.

I can’t stress enough how important this position is and the milestones it will help your child to reach with ease.  At Shannon ChildCare we actively encourage our children to try this position out for a few minutes at a time – you should too!