TUMMY TIME, WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?
Most new parents have heard of the term ‘tummy time’, but what exactly is tummy time and why is it so important for your babies development?
Tummy time refers to any time that your baby spends on their tummy. Lying your baby on their tummies will help with the drainage of the tubes between their nose and ears, reducing the risk of infection. It also encourages a more open posture from the curled up foetal position they are in after birth. This creates more space internally allowing the internal organs to do their job. By lying your baby on their tummies while awake, you are helping to facilitate movement. Movement encourages the circulation of nutrient and oxygen rich blood that will help to nourish your babies growing brain and eliminate toxins. This movement is also necessary for your baby to begin to develop the muscle tone and balance skills required to explore and engage with their environment. The sensory motor stimulation provided through tummy time, helps to prepare your baby for important developmental stages such as creeping and crawling.
When a new baby is laid down on their tummies they will initially find it difficult to lift their head up due to the pull of gravity. Only from the point of birth will your baby have experienced the forces of gravity, as until then they will have been suspended in the amniotic fluid and held safe in their mother’s womb. Through lots of opportunities to lie on their tummy, your baby will be able to build up the muscles in their head, neck and shoulders. This will allow your baby to develop head control. Increased head control is important for the development of visual skills and will open up a whole new perspective on their world; allowing them to scan their environment, look towards sounds or visual stimuli, or make eye contact with parents. Good head control will provide a steady base for the eyes to work from and will help with focusing from close up objects to those further away (important skills for academic learning such as reading and copying from the board!). As the strength and stability of your babies upper body begins to develop they will begin to push themselves up on their hands, or use their arms to squirm and move around on the floor. This movement sends information from the body to the brain and helps lay down pathways, allowing your baby to develop their inner senses; body awareness and balance skills. These inner senses are required to perform coordinated movements and enable a baby to move from lying on their tummies, to crawling on their hands and knees, to pulling to standing, cruising furniture and ultimately walking independently.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR TUMMY TIME
Tummy time can begin from as early as when your baby is born and they are placed on your chest, on their tummy for skin to skin contact. The earlier you start the more likely that your baby will accept this as a natural position. Initially your baby may only tolerate a very short time on their tummy. Little and often is the key to building up their tolerance. Make use of opportunities for tummy time and make it part of your routine. For example;
· Tummy to tummy - Lying down or reclined in a chair or bed, place your baby on your tummy or chest.
· Lap time – lay your baby tummy down across your lap. Use a hand across their bottom for support to provide a sense of security and a soothing touch. In this position it is easy to rock gently back and forth over the knee or to gently massage or stroke their back, providing increased opportunity to develop their inner senses.
· Tummy down carry – while carrying your baby around the house, carry them tummy down across the inside of your forearm. By using your hand and also holding them into your body they will feel safer and secure.
· Face to face time – lay your baby on the floor for tummy time. Get down to their eye level and lie on the floor with them. Talk, sing or read to your baby, show them toys and engage them with your voice and actions.
· Mirror Mirror – whilst in tummy time place a small mirror in front of your baby so they can engage with the beautiful baby looking back at them!
· Bolster time – one way to make tummy time a little easier is to place a small bolster or rolled up towel under your babies chest. Position your babies arms over the bolster with their hands out in front. Ensure your babies chin is positioned slightly in front of the bolster so they mouth and nose are not obstructed.
· Sling time – carrying your baby in a sling or’ baby wearing’, also counts as tummy time.
For best results engage your baby in tummy time when they are content and alert, has a clean nappy and not directly after a feed when their tummy is full. It is important not to insist on tummy time if they are upset or fussy; forcing the issue may cause your baby to negatively associate tummy time with being unhappy. Try again later when they are calm and more willing to engage. Tummy time should be fun and engaging for both you and baby!
Lynsey Sharp and Kathryn Horgan
Paediatric Occupational Therapists
The above article was written for and published in Mums and Tots magazine, Spring edition. Icankidz run Nurturing Newbies, an educational parent and baby course that aims to empower parents and uses activities to help brain development.