Babies are constantly learning. After all, they are new to this world and there’s a lot to take in! The first skills they learn will become building blocks for even more future learning. One of the most important activities to foster learning is tummy time. This cute sounding phrase carries a lot of weight in a baby’s life. What exactly is tummy time and why is it important?
Simply put, tummy time is when babies lay on their stomachs while awake. This could be on the floor or on a parent’s lap. Having toys within reach is recommended, as well as lying on the floor with baby. Always supervise your baby during tummy time.
Sounds simple, but explaining the importance of tummy time is more complex. Babies are built to explore their worlds and tummy time is that first experience to engage all of the muscles and thought processes that help them successfully move about their environments, says Missy Carson Smith, Parent Liaison for Great Start Collaborative of Traverse Bay.
“When babies have lots of experience with tummy time, they are building essential strength in their necks, backs, and abdomens that will one day enable them to crawl. When those muscles develop through the experimentation and work of tummy time and then crawling, babies will truly have the strength and readiness skills to be ready to walk,“ says Carson Smith.
Research suggests that babies who spend time on their tummies may crawl, roll over and sit up without support earlier than babies who do not.
When to start and how much tummy time is enough? Babies can start with tummy time right away – newborns can begin with a few minutes 2 to 3 times a day. As baby gets older, longer periods of tummy time are recommended – a 3 to 4-month-old should get at least 20 minutes a day.
“When babies are on the floor, they are doing everything from making decisions to experiencing cause and effect with objects in their environment,” says Carson Smith.
She goes on to explain that, “Tummy time is the first opportunity parents have to teach their children to be responsible. Think of the word responsible as meaning ‘response-able’. We give our kids opportunities to develop skills so they are able to respond appropriately to a variety of situations. Tummy time does just this. Looking for sounds, tracking and reaching for objects, and coordinating body movement are response-ability skills for babies. They are foundational skills for crawling and walking.”
Another good reason to practice tummy time is to avoid positional plagiocephaly. This is when babies develop a flat spot on the back of their heads from too much time on their backs. Putting baby to sleep on his or her back is the right thing to do and the safest sleeping position – but spending too much time awake in this position can become a problem.
Helping baby to grow up healthy and interact with the world in the safest and most meaningful ways are what parents are for, so remember the power of tummy time!