By Mary Gibson
Tummy time. Everyone tells us how important it is for our baby’s development. We hear it from the doctor. We hear it from the hospital. We hear it from the countless online communities we’ve been scouring for months as our sweet babe gestates. We leave the hospital, baby in arms, confident we’ll be able to give our child the apportioned amount of daily tummy time with no problems. In fact, it seems almost silly to be reminded time and again to make sure our baby gets 3-5 minutes of tummy time two to three times a day. That’s only 15 minutes in a 24-hour period. Easy.
Then you get home. It’s suddenly overwhelmingly apparent newborn babies don’t enjoy being placed on their tummies on the floor. In fact, a lot of them are downright furious about it. And getting five minutes of awake time three times a day? Yeah, right. The baby wakes up, then there’s an hour for changing and feeding (and probably changing again). By the time that’s done there’s perhaps a ten minute window for awake activities, most of which consist of admiring the baby, filling your phone with pictures, and trying to cram in the basic adult necessities you require to keep functioning—food, water, toilet, etc. And after that it’s time to rock the baby back to sleep for another hour or two before you start the whole cycle again.
And you’re supposed to spend five minutes of your little one’s precious awake time making them uncomfortable and furious? Um, no.
Never fear, dear parents. Tummy time doesn’t have to be a stressful experience for all involved. Here are some ways to make tummy time enjoyable for everyone.
- Kill two (three!) birds with one stone: do tummy time on your chest.
Along with tummy time, people love talking about the importance of skin-to-skin time between baby and parents. Skin-to-skin time is the perfect opportunity to sneak in some tummy time as well. Your baby will be much more content breathing in your smell and listening to your heartbeat as she strengthens her neck, back, and limbs. BONUS: If you’re a nursing mother, nurse your baby in the laid back position (tummy to tummy) while also doing skin-to-skin. This is a great way to meet a multitude of needs simultaneously.
- Try changing your own position during tummy time.
For a newborn baby, being placed tummy down on a wide expanse of floor without the ability to see or touch or smell his parent is alarming. Get on the floor with your baby. Snuggle into their side or front. Touch noses together. Position yourself within their line of sight—8 to 10 inches away is the best focus point. Do your best to align your eyes.
- Use your old shirt or comforter for tummy time.
Your baby is highly attuned to your smell, and it’s a comfort to them. Use this to your advantage! Use one of your dirty, breast milk-stained shirts as a tummy time mat. Trust me, it’s their favorite fragrance. Or just wrap yourself up in their blanket for an hour or two. Anything to put your unique smell in close contact with them.
- Touch and massage your baby during tummy time.
A hand placed lightly on her back can do wonders for a baby fussing during tummy time. Stroke their arms and legs, or even add very light pressure. Being able to physically feel your presence is important for a baby!
- Talk to your baby.
This is one of the easiest ways to make tummy time interactive. At the very beginning, simply speak to your baby in a soothing voice so he knows you’re near. As the weeks go on, you can start adding songs and sound effects at an appropriate volume. Try speaking to your baby on one side and then moving to their other side as you keep talking. This will encourage them to turn their head as they attempt to follow your voice.
- Create extra support.
If your little one hates being flat on the floor, try rolling up a blanket or using a pillow (like a nursing pillow) to provide a bolster for her. Place it under their chest and stretch their arms over it. Always make sure their airway is clear of the fabric.
- Introduce age-appropriate visuals.
Newborns register simple shapes with sharp contrast best. They also enjoy faces. A simple stuffed animal with big black and white eyes or some cards with large black and white shapes will provide plenty of visual stimuli for them in the first few weeks.
Some of these tips worked so well! While relaxing our son during tummy time, he actually fell asleep right in the middle of the living room floor! If this happens with your own little one, remember back is best for sleeping newborns. If you can’t bring yourself to move him, though, just do what we did. Curl up next to him with a hand on his back, feel his little chest moving up and down as he breathes, and simply soak in that precious little life!
Mary Beth Gibson graduated from Wichita State University in 2007 with a BA in Creative Writing and blogs at Bright Sycamore. She enjoys most things natural, but with a healthy dose of practicality and affordability. You can most likely find her wearing her toddler around Target as she hunts for great deals in the dollar bins. She lives in Kansas with her husband and 1-year old son.
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