Help! My Baby Hates Tummy Time!
By Melissa McDougall, Advanced Paediatric Osteopath.
“Tummy time” is a procedure recommended for infants to increase muscle tone in early development. Tummy time refers to exactly that, placing an infant on the floor (or other flat surface) on their stomach and encouraging an elevated head position.
Designed to build head, neck and shoulder strength, tummy time helps infants achieve gross motor milestones such as rolling, crawling, creeping, sitting in a fluid and timely manner.
Your MCHN may have told you about the importance of tummy time, but what if your baby hates it?
Babies dislike tummy time for many reasons.
Some babies are quite irritable in the first weeks or months of life and require a lot of rocking, bouncing, holding just to calm for short period. When parents are in the thick of this- tummy time is not a priory and will most likely end in tears.
Other babies can suffer from symptomatic reflux- this is where regurgitation of acidic stomach contents causes pain and is quite different to ‘happy chucking’. ‘Happy chuckers’ won’t blink an eye after vomiting or positing- it’s not at all painful. In symptomatic reflux, pressure on the stomach during tummy time can result in more regurgitation and pain- not fun!
Babies with big heads and average sized bodies, or low muscle tone can find tummy time difficult- instead of crying they will usually just rest their head to the side.
Torticollis, or tight neck muscles can also make it tummy time difficult and uncomfortable for babies. Signs that your baby may have a tight neck include only turning their head to one side, flattening of an area on the head, breastfeeding better on one side more than the other, crying when pulling clothes over their head or arms.
Learning to love tummy time
- 1. Start as early as possible – that’s right- on day 1. On you chest, and on the floor. It’s ok if your little baby just sleeps when you place them on their tummy (as long as you are supervising). Over the coming days and weeks they will become more wakeful and start moving from this tummy time position. Starting early means your baby knows tummy time on the floor as part of their safe, new environment.
- 2. If your baby is a bit older and already hates tummy time, try a transitioning exercise such as superbaby. This is great because your baby is working their back and shoulder muscles but can see the whole room (which makes it more tolerable!) . This is also great for babies with digestive discomfort as there is no pressure on their little tummy.
- 3. Become an entertainer for your baby. Studies have shown that when a baby is presented with a preferred stimulus (toys, music, human interaction) during tummy time he decreases negative vocalisations (i.e. crying) and spends more time with his head up.
- 4. Use a rolled towel or pillow under the shoulders- this makes it easier for your baby to lift their head. Thicker towels will help to take pressure off your babies tummy too.
If you’ve tried all of the above, and your baby still dislikes being on her tummy, it may be useful to check in with one of our paediatric osteopaths who can assess for tension or strain in your babies neck and prescribed some play based exercises to help.
Graham JM. (2006). Tummy time is important. Clinical Pediatrics, 45, 119–121. doi: 10.1177/000992280604500202.
Jennings JT, Sarbaugh BG, Payne NS. (2005). Conveying the message about optimal infant positions. Physical & Occupational Therapy in Pediatrics, 25(3):3–18. doi: 10.1080/J006v25n03_02.
Kadey, HJ, Roane HS. (2012). Effects of access to a stimulating object on infant behavior during tummy time. Journal of applied behavior analysis, 45(2), 395–399. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.2012.45-395