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Making Tummy Time Fun

Updated: Sep 16, 2023

by: Rachel Coley, MS, OTR/L, CanDo Kiddo,


Not every baby enjoys tummy time. It is really a lot of hard work learning how to fight gravity for the first time. Rachel Coley, a pediatric occupational therapist, shares her tips on how to make tummy time fun.


Change the way you place baby in tummy time

Begin Tummy Time with your baby on her back on a soft blanket or surface. Have face-to-face time for a moment until your baby is comfortable and relaxed – in what’s referred to as a quiet alert state. Slowly roll baby onto her side and talk, sing, soothe, and stroke her until she is again comfortable and relaxed. Slowly roll her onto her belly and continue your interactions with her. Babies often reflexively try to get their hands under or in front of their shoulders, and you can gently assist her with this movement. 


Why It Works

Placing a baby straight onto her belly often backfires because it is alarming to her neurological system. For about the first 6 weeks of life, when held in the air belly-down, a baby’s head hangs lower than her chest (a phenomenon called the Landau Reaction). That means that her noggin will likely be the first thing to make contact with the surface beneath her. Even if that surface is soft and you’re being gentle, that stimulus is alarming and often causes a startle reaction. Baby’s vision is very primitive and developing in those early weeks, so that sensory system isn’t giving much warning about her position change.  Rolling from her back to her side to her belly will allow her to enter Tummy Time in a less threatening way.


Change your toy placement:

 It seems obvious that if you want your baby to lift her head, you place a toy in front of her. Right? Well, sort of. Placing a toy too far away from baby too soon is a recipe for frustration. The ideal spot to place a toy in Tummy Time is right where your baby can see it with her head lifted. But the tricky part is that his placement changes. In the early weeks, this is only a few inches from her face (top photo). This is one of the reasons why I recommend lots of Tabletop Tummy Time in the first month. As baby gets stronger, she can lift her head higher and view toys further away or higher up (middle and bottom photos).


Why It Works

It’s easy to assume that placing a toy just beyond where baby can comfortably lift her head to see would make her work harder to lift higher. But unfortunately, most babies just protest that hard work (translation: they cry). Your better bet is to keep a toy close enough for baby to comfortably look for a longer period of time. 


Tummy Time is not playtime. Tummy Time is a position for playtime. There needs to be a paradigm shift in how we think about and talk about Tummy Time. Instead of telling new parents to “DO Tummy Time,” health professionals should be encouraging them to “Do play activities in Tummy Time,” and then offer suggestions.


It’s simply not fair to expect new parents, groggy and buried in dirty diapers to dream up creative developmental activities for their newborns. Most are dreaming up creative ways to get food on the table several times a day and soap on their bodies at least once a week. Never fear – CanDo Kiddo is here to help!  Here are a few Tummy Time activities to get you started:


Why It Works

Tummy Time is effortful for babies; it requires them to use muscles and movements that are new to them. Many babies resist this position unless they are deeply interested in exploring something while belly-down. Novel play ideas that match your baby’s developmental level and interests are your best tools against Tummy Time tears. 


In the early weeks and months, a baby’s playtime exploration is primarily through the senses of seeing and hearing (although the sensory benefits of Tummy Time extend far beyond these two senses). But the vast majority of baby toys are intended to be touched, grabbed, or mouthed.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Coley, MS, OTR/L, has been a pediatric Occupational Therapist for 8 years. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Health & Exercise Science from Furman University and a Master’s in Occupational Therapy from Boston University. She has advanced training in the areas of infant neurodevelopment, sensory processing, Plagiocephaly, and Torticollis (head and neck issues of infancy). As a new mom, Rachel lets her personal passion for parenting and her professional expertise about babies collide in CanDo Kiddo, a family business with a mission to support and inspire new parents to play with their newborns for healthy development.

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