"What should I do if my baby hates being on their tummy?"
Have you ever told your mum or gran about “tummy time”? Did they look at you as if you’d grown another head and say, “What? We never had that in OUR day and you managed to crawl ok!”?
This month I’m taking a good look at the subject of tummy time so that you can decide for yourself whether to start scheduling it into your baby’s day ...
What is tummy time?
“Tummy time” did not exist before 1994. Babies born in the UK before the 1970s were generally placed on their sides to sleep and then, because of a growing, mistaken, belief that babies might choke on their own vomit if they rolled onto their backs, from the mid 1960s until 1992, mums were advised to put babies to sleep on their tummies.
Scientists working in the study of babies and how they regulate their breathing noticed that tummy-sleeping was associated with a huge increase in SIDS and suspected that front-sleeping interfered with the natural mechanisms which keep babies safe whilst asleep.
So mums were immediately advised to start putting their little ones on their backs to sleep and the rates of SIDS dropped from around 1 in 250 to around 1 in 3000 babies. One unforeseen consequence of this new, life-saving, policy was that babies began pushing up and crawling later. And so ... “tummy time” was invented to encourage mums to give their babies time on their fronts in order to develop motor skills and strengthen their muscles.
When should I start introducing tummy time to my baby?
Evidence-based advice on when and for how long to start putting babies down for specific tummy time is sparse and so even the NHS advice is pretty vague. It is suggested that tummy time should begin from birth - babies should be put on their tummies on their parent’s chest. In other words ... cuddle your newborn baby! This seems obvious but many babies spend hours on their backs - in their bouncy chair, car seat, cot and pushchair and so rarely spend time on their tummies in the natural, in-arms way.
From about 5 or 6 months onwards, babies gradually start to roll over by themselves. This is a natural developmental stage and, once your baby finds they can roll over and reach out for a toy (or the pet cat) they will do it repeatedly and you no longer need to set aside a specific time. So, whenever your baby is lying on their back enjoying a good kick, place toys at a short distance away to encourage them to look and reach. Babies used to be changed on the floor or a lap and had space to move and roll, whereas, on modern changing tables, movement tends to be a bit more restricted if for no other reason than mums understandably worry about falls and so prevent their baby shifting about. So consider ringing the changes every now and then by getting down on the carpet when you’re tackling a wet nappy - pop baby on a towel and then take your time and play,
How long should my baby spend on their tummy?
Little and often is the best way to begin. So newborns can be put down on a soft blanket for a minute or so at a time a few times a day. As the days and weeks go on, gradually increase the time babies spend on their tummies out of arms. As a rough guide, start with that newborn minute on a blanket and then increase the time by a minute or two at each session every couple of days until your baby is getting a total of 40-60 minutes over the course of each day. This time does not need to be all in one go so don’t leave an unhappy baby wailing on their tummy.
What should I do if my baby hates being on their tummy?
All newborn babies can lift their heads and bob around from birth - it’s how they’ve evolved to find the breast. All babies are evolved to start looking around more at about 4 months old and then to start rolling from around 5-6 months onwards and then to eventually start moving (some crawl, some bottom-shuffle and some skip that stage and go straight to walking).
So even without scheduled tummy time, your baby will eventually give you the run-around. More of an issue is when babies do not get the opportunity to put their developing ability into practice and strengthen their muscles because they spend so much time in car seats, bouncy chairs and pushchairs as well as sleeping on their backs. Think of it this way: all children develop the ability to learn to swim but if they never get taken to the pool that learning won’t actually happen. We can have the ability to learn to do something but still need the opportunity to do so.
The way that babies have always had lots of natural tummy time is in arms. Mums and dads who constantly carry their babies, with or without a sling, soon discover that their little one pushes off their chest to get a better view of the world. And they never develop flat heads either! Those first three months, when babies are fractious ALL evening, are the perfect opportunity for hours of natural tummy time as you hold your poor colicky baby against your chest, or tummy-down over your forearm.
Mums who breastfeed their babies find that they hardly ever get the chance to put their babies in a bouncy chair or pushchair before their little one asks to disappear back up their T-shirt for another nuzzle, and, if, as a breastfeeding mum, they choose the calm of safely co-sleeping then their baby will naturally snuggle into them whilst lying on their side and push against their mums all through the night gently exercising their muscles.
So you see, babies have naturally evolved to push up, roll about and get moving to explore the wider world.
So, if your baby doesn't like being put down on their tummy (and very many really hate it), don’t panic. Simply ditch the pushchair and go out for a walk using your sling. Encourage family to pick your baby up and cuddle them to their chests for as long as they like - you know that, far from making a rod for your back, this encourages social skills and develops confidence.
Sure, introduce formal tummy time if you want to but, alongside this, do what your granny did and allow your baby lots of natural opportunities in your loving arms to workout and power-up. Just don’t forget to buy those cupboard locks!
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