When Dominik was a baby, even just a few weeks old, I started hearing about tummy time from everyone. Has he started tummy time? You should do tummy time. Tummy time will help him learn to crawl. How often does he do tummy time?
Tummy time, basically the act of putting a young infant (who is not crawling yet) on their stomachs to play (awake, not asleep). It became popular once parents were told to only let infants sleep on their backs. The idea was that giving them time on their stomachs would help promote upper body development. Dominik really hated it, but would tolerate it for short periods of time if I used a pillow to raise him up a bit. So why do we do it and is it necessary?
Babies that have tummy time typically crawl and roll sooner than babies who do little or no tummy time, sometimes up to 3 months sooner. Also, giving babies time on their tummies helps to prevent flattening on the back of the head. Since we put babies to sleep on their backs and they often spend time in car seats or laying down, some babies will get flat spots on the back of their heads. Tummy time helps to prevent this. It also strengthens the back, arms, and neck muscles.
Although it promotes earlier rolling and crawling, tummy time has no effect on other gross motor milestones. So, just because a baby crawled early, doesn’t mean they will walk early. Babies learn to roll over and crawl without tummy time. Also, many babies are pretty distressed when forced to lay on their stomachs because it’s awkward, uncomfortable, and a struggle.
Babies have always either been held or laid down on their backs. When held, they are able to learn movements, balance, and see the world from our perspective. Holding babies often and babywearing also prevents flattening of the head. On their backs, they are able to practice moving limbs at their own pace as well as explore what’s around them. Recent studies on gross motor development in general have found that children who reached milestones early, had less balance and motor control than children who were on time or late. When children learn how to control and develop muscles at their own pace, they are given the time to master a skill before moving on to the next.
So tummy time may not be as important as we thought it was. Babies will reach milestones and develop properly all on their own. Plus, once they learn how to roll over, they will be more likely to want to be on their bellies. If baby loves being on their tummy, it won’t hurt to have some playtime face down. But if baby, like Dominik, hates tummy time, there’s no harm in skipping and not forcing it.