Tummy Time Troubles? Why It’s Important

You’ve probably heard that Tummy Time is important for babies. Perhaps you and your Baby enjoy this practice. If, however, your experience is one of tears, discomfort, and dislike, you are not alone.

Why Is Tummy Time Important?

Lying on the belly is an important position for babies that allows normal development to occur. This is how Baby learns to lift his head, and the compression to the belly helps digestion. He can mouth his hands easily, which helps him to self-soothe. Each of the milestones has its roots in tummy time because the position activates many reflexes.

  • Babies first explore their relationship with gravity by resting and bonding with the earth, then pushing into its support while on the tummy.
  • They learn to maneuver their own weight and develop core strength.
  • They roll, which develops strength and coordination needed for sitting.
  • They learn to shift their weight from side to side, freeing one arm to play, which develops into belly-crawling.
  • They begin pushing up onto hands and knees, and eventually crawl.
  • Each stage provides the skills that will be needed for the next milestone.

Because they have built such a solid foundation from their tummies, they can now reach out into space and explore the environment beyond themselves. Because they have pushed on the earth to bring themselves up higher, they have measured their own ability and their distance from the floor; and so develop a feeling of safety in which falling is not scary.

Cultural Differences

Some cultures bypass Tummy Time altogether; why, then, do we say it’s so important here in America? Often, in cultures that do not have an established practice of Tummy Time, constant baby-carrying is the norm. The baby is carried perhaps in a sling, or simply in arms, while caregivers move quite actively through their daily tasks of cooking, bathing, crafting, and even dancing. These babies meet their early developmental milestones, like rolling, on the bodies of other humans. (Note, this is different from the typical style of baby-wearing in our culture, both in the style of carrying and the style of adult movement. Most of our carried babies still need floor time.) Because many of our babies spend considerable amounts of time sleeping on their backs or confined safely in car seats, swings, or bundled in blankets or winter coats, it is up to us to provide them prescribed floor-time to allow their full potential of movement to develop.

Stay tuned for tips on making Tummy Time a place of ease and comfort.

© Elizabeth Parker 2011, All Rights Reserved

(Links are welcome. If you’d like to share my post in your blog or materials, please ask permission.)


4 responses to “Tummy Time Troubles? Why It’s Important

  1. Glanced over this entry and would like to remind readers that at birth, baby’s head is down and their behind is up when in Tummy Time. Also, a newborn baby’s head is bigger than their chest! These two facts alone make this position a challenge. However, a challenge is what helps the child learn to persist. When a baby tries to lift their head in Tummy Time that action automatically engages their chest and upper extremities (which are conveniently tucked up close to their head and body creating better leverage in the first 3 months). This is nature’s way of helping them get their head up and their butt down when they learn that by pushing into their arms they will go higher to see more of their caregivers and environment. Mastering this action connects all important core trunk muscles – those closest to their spine and the lower muscles which surround their shoulder blade (ie. serratus anterior and latissimus dorsi) key elements for eventually coming to sitting and standing as well as being able to for example keyboard with ease while sitting.
    Also, sidelying is a good alternative to Tummy Time if a baby does not enjoy being on their belly. Use pillows behind baby’s back to support sidelying – which is a great position to eventually learn rolling over because it is half-way between front and back. Just make sure in any position that a caregivers face is there to exchange glances, support baby’s efforts and learn to share playing with age appropriate objects.

  2. Eliza, Great blog!

  3. Thanks for contributing, M! To everyone, there is much more coming about TT.

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