Tummy time is important, because most babies tend to be put down on their backs all the time between sleeping on their backs and spending time in car seats, swings, bouncer seats, offering few opportunities to work on arm and neck strengthening. These passive-recline positions also may lead to creating a flat spot on the back of your baby’s head.
Babies develop muscle strength and motor control starting at the top and working its way down. Head control, neck strength, shoulder and arm strength come first, then the upper torso and lower abdominal muscles and then finally leg strength and balance develops.
Tummy time is where it all begins!
If your baby seems to dislike tummy time or isn’t pushing up on bent arms, here are some tips that might help.
Tip #1: It’s never too early to start tummy time.
Get started during your baby’s first week. Try a time when your baby seems alert and content, then place her on her tummy with her arms and elbows tucked under her chest and her hands near her chin. At first, she may just lift her head and turn it side by side, but over time you’ll see her lift her head higher and hold it up for a few moments longer before resting it back down. Jerky or bobbing movements are common at this age. Eventually she’ll push on her arms to get her shoulders and chest up as well as her head.
Tip #2: Place your baby on her tummy regularly – several times each day for short periods, for example, after each diaper change. She’ll need some company, encouragement and frequent repositioning to help her tolerate the position until she is stronger. Show her some toys. Read a book. Sing her a silly song. The more tummy time she does, the easier it will get for her.
Tip #3: Propped positions work better. Sometimes parents will lay the baby down flat on the belly and expect the baby to push up, but instead, most babies will simply flail their arms by their sides, grind their face into the mat and cry. Flat on the belly on a flat surface is probably the least-tolerated position for tummy time and there’s no reason to force babies into it when other positions work so much better and serve the same purpose of strengthening the neck, shoulders and arms.Try making a firm bolster out of a rolled up blanket, so it’s high and firm. Position your baby in a kneeling position in front of the bolster, tuck her bum right up toward the bolster so her thighs and tummy are right up against it (not draped over it, or sliding down) and tuck her forearms up underneath her chest or chin near her face. This way she’ll have some leverage and will use her arm and shoulder muscles to push with, and be able to raise her head, even for short bobs.
Tip #4: Keep sessions short but work on some modified (propped) tummy time positions to build up that strength. Think of it like going to the gym: you can’t lift heavy weights right away, you start with lower weights and after many sessions with lighter weights, gradually you build up strength and it’s not as hard. You won’t get stronger just by waiting a month or two – you do the exercise to build muscle strength.