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Why Tummy Time is So Important

Author: Emma Crossick
Have you ever wondered why your baby needs “Tummy Time”?  Or maybe you’re not sure what the term actually means?  In this piece, we will explore what it is and why it is so important for your baby.  We’ll also look at what you can do to encourage it and how to make it an enjoyable pastime.

Why We Use “Tummy Time”

Perhaps you’ve detected reluctance from the older generation when it comes to placing your baby on their tummy? Remember, many grandparents don’t really understand why babies are put on their tummies to “play” but there are many good reasons. 

In case you didn’t know, around 40+ years ago and beyond, babies in Western culture were put to sleep on their tummies but unfortunately, this posed a huge risk to health and it became more and more apparent that sleeping like this was one of the biggest reasons behind cot death.  In fact, tummy sleeping comes with more than 12.9% risk increase of cot death.

This research on cot death and tummy sleeping is not restricted to one country. Governments across the world have adopted guidelines that encourage parents to sleep their babies on their backs.  Babies should sleep this way so as not to obstruct air channels and to allow them to be able to breathe freely.  Remember, tiny babies cannot move themselves so if they cannot breathe properly due to congestion or because their nose and mouths are obstructed, there will automatically be danger.  Luckily, modern parents take heed of this advice and sleep their babies on their backs. 

However, sleeping on the back does have its own set of problems but Tummy Time is a great way of removing these problems and ensuring correct development and milestones are achieved.


Tummy Time Strengthens Neck Muscles

Babies that sleep on their back don’t develop their neck muscles as quickly because they aren’t encouraged to lift their heads up.  As soon as you place a young baby on its tummy (not a newborn) it will try and lift its head up, it’s a reflex action and is nature’s way of strengthening neck muscles.  As today’s babies sleep and often spend time on their backs, this important aspect of development is slowed.  This is one of the reasons why experts encourage “tummy time”. 

Tummy Time For Other Muscles

Being on the tummy is excellent for strengthening and developing the muscles and not just those all-important neck muscles.  This position encourages upper body muscles and arm muscles, both of which are needed for good physical development.  The same position really strengthens the core and the tummy and as your baby’s legs start to move, it gives them a workout too.  It’s also vital for co-ordination and for reaching milestones such as rolling over, crawling and later on, playing and reading in the same position.

The Rules of Tummy Time

When placing your baby on its tummy there are certain things you should do.  Firstly, never leave your baby unattended, they must be supervised at all time.  This is to minimise risk of cot death and to make sure they don’t get into difficulty.  Secondly you should encourage them to lift up their heads and also to reach for interesting items (the latter from around 4 months plus).  You could, for example, place some brightly coloured toys just out of their reach.  This will encourage them to try and grab hold of them and is excellent for stretching and moving their bodies.  Remember, some babies are just too young for reaching and touching but it doesn’t mean they can’t look at items around them.

Tummy Time For Movement

Tummy time is also good for encouraging movement.  It’s the right position for crawling.  Do remember that a very young baby won’t be crawling for a while but as your baby gets older, it’s a good idea to turn them onto their tummies, place objects away from them and watch them try and reach them. You’ll find that once your baby can hold his or her head up properly, they will push forward with their legs moving their arms and legs toward the object with or without success.  This is the beginning of crawling. Tummy time helps to get to that milestone.  Some babies can start to crawl as young as 6 months but some babies never crawl and prefer to stand up and walk instead!


Tummy Time Is Good for Flat Head Syndrome

Another vital reason why tummy time is so important is flat head syndrome.  Children that sleep on their backs more than likely develop a flattened area on one part of the skull.  Firstly, this is absolutely nothing to worry about.  It usually corrects itself in time and is purely because a baby’s skull is soft up until around the age of 1 year old.  That’s why it moulds itself to the shape of a mattress.  You can combat this in various ways.  Encouraging tummy time is good because it moves your baby’s skull out of your baby’s naturally preferred position.  You can also gently turn your baby’s head while he or she is asleep to alleviate the pressure on the side of the flatness.  Try feeding your baby in a slightly different position, so you don’t cradle the head on the area of flatness.  There are also various mattresses available that combat flat head syndrome; they have a curve in the head area that gently cradles the skull so it doesn’t develop flat areas.  If your baby has a flat head – do not worry about it.  There is nothing wrong with your baby!  Once your baby grows hair, you won’t see it and over time, much of the flatness will disappear.  Do not change your baby’s sleeping position to the tummy to correct flat head, you are posing a far greater risk to your child!

Tummy Time for Future Milestones

Did you know that tummy time is also good for hand writing?  Well, it is and that’s because the position isn’t just for babies.  As your child grows older, you should encourage them to lay on their tummy because it visibly strengthens spatial awareness, it works your child’s arms, shoulders and neck muscles as well as the core muscles in the tummy.  Your child needs strong arms and hands to write.  Strong arm muscles and upper body strength later transfers to solid mark making and then handwriting.  This is why tummy time isn’t just for fun – it’s for encouraging fine motor skills, later on life skills!


What To Do When Baby Doesn’t Want Tummy Time

Many babies are reluctant to be placed on their tummies and that’s because they’re not used to the position.  Your baby might cry and get upset or become fractious.  Now, before you react, listen out for the type of cry your baby is making because each is different.  You will get to know the difference between a baby crying for attention, crying in pain or crying out of frustration!  You don’t have to force your baby into that position.  Just do it for a minute at a time, especially when they are really tiny, gradually increasing the amount of time that they spend on their tummy until they get used to it and can raise their head in comfort.  It’s about getting them used to that position and the more you put them into that position, the more used to it they will become. 

If you do find that your baby really dislikes being placed on his or her tummy, try putting them across your knees, while this is an alternative it is still not as good as using the floor but it will help encourage muscular strength.

How to Make Tummy Time Fun!

There are lots of different things you can do to make tummy time interesting and even fun for your baby:

  • Buy or find some crunchy, textured material so they can feel it and enjoy it. Let them delight in the sound it makes as they touch it too.
  • Reflective materials are excellent for tummy time as they reflect shapes and colours which your baby will really savour.
  • Place toys around their body so they can grab and reach, choose black and white toys for very young babies as they can see these colours best, gradually moving onto bright colours as they grow older.
  • At around the four month mark, move toys slightly out of reach because this is when your baby should be capable of reaching out to them. This is good exercise for your baby too.
  • Get down with your baby too; your baby will delight in having you with him or her and playing along too.
  • Always use a soft floor such as carpet, rugs or play-mats.

Make sure the environment is warm, check the floor isn’t cold.


Finally, to summarise, try your baby with tummy time a few minutes every day and make sure it’s as enjoyable as possible.  Once your baby can lift his or her head up, you will find they respond better to this exercise and later on, they should hit their milestones on target.  Never be tempted to change their sleeping position to their tummies, even if your baby develops a flat area on the head. Sleeping this way is extremely dangerous and it’s far better to keep your baby safe and sound with you carefully supervising fun tummy time to build up their muscles and encourage them to move.


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