The newborn and five week pediatrician appointments are filled with information about how to attend to your new baby. At some point during these visits, the doctor will often slip in a line about starting tummy time. Sometimes, newborns take to tummy time without a problem. Other times, newborns cry and fuss as if to say “turn me back over!” Here are 5 pearls to convince resistant babies that tummy time is not that bad.
During the first few weeks of life, use a tummy to tummy strategy. While you are lying on your back, place your baby on your tummy. Use your voice and facial expressions to coax your baby to lift her head to socialize with you. This is an excellent way to bond and allows your newborn to work on the muscles of the neck and jaw.
Do not make it a chore. Tummy time should not be the equivalent of 30 minutes on the treadmill. It should be an engaging and fun experience. Use toys (and sometimes siblings) to get your baby’s attention. You can create a “tummy time” toolbox filled with your baby’s favorite toys that can be available whenever you need them. You can continually refresh the toolbox if your baby tires of one toy or expresses an interest in another.
Never force your baby to participate. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish a baby who is crying out of frustration from a baby who might just be grunting because she is working to master a new skill. Try to take a few moments and watch your baby before reacting. You might notice that she is actually engaged in the activity and just working hard!
Babies love routine and thrive when they know what is coming. Try to fit tummy time into a predictable schedule when your baby is rested and ready for the challenge. For example, think about tummy time for a minute immediately after each home diaper change.
Change tummy time to meet your baby’s developmental level. When your baby is 2 months, she will have developed a responsive social smile. When she is 4 months, she will initiate this smile. Once your baby reaches these milestones, lie down on your belly facing your baby. Lift your head and encourage her to make eye contact. Then, take a toy that will attract her attention and put it down in front of her. This exercise will help your baby to build upper back strength and visually track between the surface and your face.
The basic ideas for these pearls are found in the book “Retro-baby” by Anne Zachry PhD. This and the follow-up book “Retro-toddler” provide an incredible resource with practical ideas to engage babies without screens. I will return to these resources in future posts but I encourage anyone who takes care of infants and toddlers to read these books.