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Tummy time and play

Posted by Karen Faulkner on
Tummy time and play
You've probably heard your Child and Family Health Nurse or Health Visitor 'going on' about tummy time. Yes, I too am guilty of that! Those mums and dads out there that know me will be nodding their heads at this! Well, now I'm going to explain why its important and an easy solution. Yes, REALLY easy. Ok I've got your attention!

Tummy time is placing your baby on its front or tummy several times a day, as tolerated.

Don't make it a miserable experience for the baby. Most of us dislike exercise and I guess some babies fall into that category. So keep it short and sweet, maybe just a few minutes four to five times a day till your baby is able to tolerate maybe 10 to 15 minutes after one month. Just to begin with here's my video on the basics of tummy time.

It must be done on a firm surface to be effective.

The floor is usually the safest and most effective place. Otherwise it's like us doing press-ups on a mattress, if we choose a soft surface. It'll be a waste of time. Use a baby blanket or floor mat specially for baby and place baby on top of this on your floor.

If your baby has reflux, even silent he/she may not like tummy time. So to start with, we can do tummy time against your chest in an upright position.

Exercise and play

During the day your baby will be awake for longer as he/she gets older and develops. The need for play and stimulation, become greater after 6 weeks and he/she will need some attention and play. A bored or un-exercised brain and body is less conducive to sleep, BUT do not overwork baby, as an overtired baby is really difficult to settle. I’m sure you already know that!


So, you’re thinking, what exercise does my baby need? Here are a few ideas ...

Tummy time – on the floor. A hard surface is really important and is the gold standard of tummy time. Tummy time is important for lots of reasons: core balance aiding gross motor, head and neck control which a baby needs for rolling over, crawling, sitting and eventually walking; prevention of plagiocephaly (flat head syndrome) and exercise to make baby tired and conducive for sleep.

A lot of plagiocephaly occurs in utero and is often caused being wedged, occipito-posterior positions and other malpositions, twins and multiple births are especially susceptible. The baby may also have a torticollis (a shortened neck muscle). If you’re concerned talk to your GP, Paediatrician, Child and Family Health Nurse or Paediatric Physiotherapist. It is easy to treat if it is picked up early. Tummy time is really important and ensuring that baby can look to both sides equally i.e. has equal and full movement of the head. Tummy time will show any deficits in head movement.

Now I know you’re probably thinking - 'But my baby really hates tummy time!'

It’s important to remember that most of us don’t really ‘love’ exercise. There are some unusual people out there (iron men and women and triathletes and the like who do love it). But most of us exercise because we know it’s good for us. I do Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga and only do it because it's good for me and I am aching so much today! I see it as torture but a necessary torture so I carry on because the benefits outweigh the pain. Babies are the same and by regular practise he/she will learn to enjoy and especially so, if you join your baby on the floor. Most of us dislike exercising alone. It’s also important that we don’t put our dislike onto the baby. Just because we may not love exercising we feel sorry for the baby. Stop right there! You are doing your baby no favours thinking in that way! Instead, you need to think about how to make it more pleasant for your baby. See the ideas below.

It is important to do little and often, to baby’s tolerance. Try and perform at least four to six times a day. You only need to try for a few minutes to start with and by three to four months you can be building up to 10 to15 minutes at a time.


If baby really dislikes tummy time and ‘cracks it’ every time they’re placed on the floor, get on the floor with them, put some toys on the floor, lay down and play with baby. Eye contact can prolong an activity.

Try a rolled up handtowel under their arms and place the arms on top. This helps head and neck control and can prolong time on the floor. It needs to be made as pleasurable as possible. Even though it can be time consuming, remember that you are your baby’s teacher and the time spent is worth its weight in gold. Your baby may go on to excel at sports or be a future little Olympian!

There is a toy/device out there that unfortunately does not do as it says.

It may even delay crawling. Parents do not spend/waste your money on this. When I first saw it, I thought how marvellous. At last a tummy time toy that will make it easier. Then I thought about it and watched it in action. I went round to my friend Kate’s house to see her baby, the beautiful Leia (2 months) in action. Just read these reviews. They emphasise everything I'm saying exactly:

It’s great for an older baby (7 months plus) but doesn’t help younger babies one iota. I watched her friends’ baby use it and he could spin round and round in it so fast. But he is 7 months old. The younger baby (that it is designed for) cannot reach and touch the ground with its hands and arms and so has no neck and shoulder/arm strength. It is the emperors’ new clothes of toys, so to speak.

Play can also be observation.

This is as important as interaction. It allows time to process. Too much play creates an overstimulated baby. Remember it is a balance. As soon as your baby starts to whinge and avert their gaze (look away), stop the play and move onto wind down time (observation) and then we’re ready for a sleep.

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