Tummy time can help strengthen baby's neck and shoulder muscles so they can hold their head up and gain more control over their body.
A new baby can spend a lot of time on their back in their first few months. They're put on their back to sleep to lower the risk of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI), and they can spend a lot of time lying on their back in a car seat capsule, buggy or bouncer.
Because of this, it's good to give young babies regular time off their back and put them on their tummy instead. This helps avoid 'head flattening' (the medical term is ‘positional plagiocephaly’), which can happen when a baby spends too much time lying on the same part of their head – their skull is still quite soft and flexible. (Parents should also turn baby’s head to a different side each time they lay them down for a sleep.)
Tummy time is also good because it helps strengthen their neck and shoulder muscles, which will help them be able to hold their head in an upright position.
Ways to get tummy time
Put baby on the floor – a small rolled towel under their chest and underarms will help raise their head up and give them a better view. Don’t leave them there on their own though – it’s an odd new experience for them, and they may get distressed.
If whānau aren’t keen for tummy time on the floor, they might prefer ‘tummy-to-tummy’ instead – one of the parents could lie on their back and have baby lie on their chest. Tummy-to-tummy has the added motivation for a baby to lift their head to look at their parent’s face, and it’s reassuring for them to feel their parent’s body under them and hear them talking.
After a nappy change is a good opportunity for some tummy time. Roll baby gently onto their tummy by raising one of their arms above their head and then slowly moving the opposite leg across their body so they naturally turn onto their puku. This can be a less frightening experience for baby than suddenly seeing the floor coming towards them as you put them tummy down.
A parent could carry baby over their forearm, which is securely kept close at their side, with baby’s head supported by a hand under their jaw.
Baby could be laid over a parent’s lap while the parent sits comfortably in a chair or on the floor.
If baby cries during tummy time
A young baby may only tolerate tummy time for a couple of minutes at first, and that’s okay – they're not used to that position. If they start to cry after a very short time, parents can try coaxing them to stay a bit longer by talking and playing with them, but don’t force it. If they’ve obviously had enough and are getting distressed, it’s better to pick them up, have a cuddle and have another try later.