Thursday 18 January 2018

Belly laughs: Getting the most from tummy time

Tummy time is very important for babies, both physically and emotionally, and you can make it fun for both you and baby, writes Dearbhala Cox-Giffin

Tummy time
Tummy time

Tummy time is very important for babies, both physically and emotionally, and you can make it fun for both you and baby, writes Dearbhala Cox-Giffin

The most important aspect in the development of movement for babies is quite simply having the freedom to move. Babies these days are transported in pushchairs, rock-a-tots or slings, and then are placed in bouncers, high chairs or walkers, when all they really need is a mat on the floor on their tummies. Society seems to have a fixation on keeping babies in one place and whilst these are all helpful aids, using these pieces of equipment for extended periods of time limits the amount of time babies have for free movement. Babies also spend so much time on their backs when they are sleeping that it's important to give them the opportunity to have time on their tummies, which greatly increases their muscle strength and supports their physical development.

Free movement begins with a baby spontaneously learning to stretch, reach out or roll over; they then break down the movement and work out what they need to do to make it happen and practice and repeat the process until it becomes natural. Allowing your baby the space and time to experience this is vital in supporting their development and if they only have a limited amount of time during the day on their front, then their practice time is greatly reduced.

The emotional dimension of movement development is also important to consider; babies experience a real sense of achievement when they stretch out and grasp a toy and you often hear the gurgle of happiness as they roll over. Babies are born intrinsically curious with a desire to learn and it's our role to provide them with the right environment and opportunities to do so.

Why Tummy Time?

Babies are active from birth and can start having a small amount of tummy time from as early as one month old. It's a great way to encourage babies to get moving and build muscle strength; start by giving your baby just a couple of minutes on their front at a time, repeat this two or three times a day and gradually build up to a total of about an hour a day by around three months. This hour shouldn't be all at once, but made up of short bursts across the day. Your baby will naturally try to lift their head to see what's going on but won't be able to hold their head up for long periods of time until around three or four months old.

Wait until your baby is happy and alert and then place them on their tummy. This can be on a blanket on the floor, on your lap, or in your arms for younger babies. At first, your baby will be curled up and they'll put a lot of weight on their upper body and face but as your baby becomes more comfortable and secure in this position, they will begin to explore tentatively at first, and then with more confidence.

Some babies don't like being laid on the floor on their tummy at first as it's a strange experience and it may be upsetting. If this is the case, place your baby onto their tummy for a minute or two and then turn them back or start by giving them tummy time in your arms in the rugby hold. Lay your baby on their tummy across your forearm and use your other arm to support them. Once your baby is used to being held in this way, start trying to re-introduce some tummy time on the floor.

Laying on their front helps babies to strengthen their back and shoulders, as well as giving them a chance to move their arms and legs in a different way. This develops babies' gross motor skills and as they get older, they will push up from the tummy position with straight arms which is the precursor to crawling, strengthening the muscles babies need to get moving.

It also helps to get down to their level and talk or sing or make funny noises so that your baby knows you are still nearby. This will reassure your child and will also strengthen their neck, giving them greater head control as your baby will naturally and instinctively try to lift up their head to see your face. Your baby may also try to move their arms and legs in delight at the funny sounds you're making!

Make tummy time fun with rattle toys and plenty of face time with you. Eventually your baby will get used to being on their tummy and will enjoy this position and will wiggle and giggle whilst learning lots of new movements. Remember that learning to move is intrinsic to us all and we don't need to teach babies how to move as they will respond to the opportunities provided in their environment and will teach themselves.

Dearbhala Cox-Giffin is Director of Childcare with Giraffe Childcare,

Helpful Tips

* Only play with your baby on their stomach when they are awake and alert

* Do not leave your baby alone during tummy time as they could get into a position that is dangerous

* Make sure your baby is placed on a hard surface such as the floor as your baby could roll off the sofa or a bed

* If you have other children or pets, make sure your baby is safely out of harm's way

* Ensure that there aren't any draughts and it's warm on the floor

* Place your baby's toys around them on the floor and they will reach out for the colourful objects such as rattles

Irish Independent

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