Since 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that babies sleep on their backs to help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS.
Infant car seats, strollers, and swings are all designed to cradle tiny babies on their backs. Spending so much time in the same position can, unfortunately, cause flat spots on the baby’s skull, known as positional plagiocephaly. This can also delay the development of the baby’s neck and shoulder muscles. Today, in order to combat this, parents are encouraged to practice “tummy time”- aka. periods of time during which infant children are placed on their stomachs so that they don’t spend all their waking hours on their backs.
Tummy time can be practiced anywhere and anytime, as long as the baby is awake and supervised. Because it encourages a baby to lift their head, it helps strengthen those oh-so-important muscles in their necks, shoulders and core.
At first, babies won’t have the needed strength to last very long on their stomachs, and likely won’t enjoy being placed in that position for very long. Practicing tummy time daily slowly builds up their strength and endurance- by the time babies are three months old, they should be able to handle at least an hour of tummy time spread across each day. Here are some typical tummy time milestones and some easy ways to incorporate tummy time into your daily schedule.
At this age, the baby is still a little young to lie face-down on the floor. But there are still positions that we can use to get them used to being on their stomachs.
My favourite was the tummy-to-tummy hold; I would lie my newborn on her stomach on my chest while I was propped up on the couch. As she got older, she would look up at my face when I was talking to her.
By 1 month old, the baby should ideally be able to turn their head from side to side while lying on their stomach. When my daughter was a month old, I found that she couldn’t keep her head for very long, so I would lie her on her stomach with my nursing pillow under her chest and armpits to help prop her up. I also put some toys in front of her for her to look at.
Babies of this age will typically keep their forearms and elbows on the ground to support their heads but will start to track toys that you move around in front of them.
I would put a mirror in front of my daughter at this age so that she could lift her head up to look at herself in it. Other times, I would lay beside her and look in the mirror with her; she would look in the mirror at me, and then turn her head towards me. She thought it was hilarious that I was in two places at once.
With enough practice, by 6 months old, babies will be using their hands to lift their heads and chests off of the ground. Some will be able to roll from back to front and back again. At this age, my daughter loved her noisy play mat. I would put different toys all around the mat to encourage her to move from one side to another.
By this point, I found that “tummy time” was no longer a chore or an exercise; my daughter actually enjoyed being on her stomach. If I placed her on her back, she would flip right over onto her tummy. She enjoyed observing her surroundings, and being on her stomach gave her more control over where she could look. Before long, she was reaching for her toys and starting to push herself along the ground.