Ask most new moms and they’ll agree–they love seeing their new babies learn and grow and meet milestone after milestone. One of the most often searched topics on babies is, “When do babies sit up?” but many moms don’t know the importance of tummy time and how it helps babies achieve that developmental stage (and so far beyond).
We hear it all the time.
“My baby hates tummy time.”
And while most of us aren’t occupational therapists, or have first-hand access to one without having a ‘medical need,’ most pediatric occupational therapists will tell you that not enough tummy time is often the ‘core’ reason they end up treating patients.
That’s because the skills your baby learns while doing tummy time actually build their core muscles–muscles that extend from the base of your head all the way to the pelvis. Core muscles stabilize your spine, and are necessary to do just about anything that involves physical movement.
The Case For Tummy Time
Tummy time strengthens the core in a way no other activity for babies can do, but also helps develop skills that will be necessary for them to be successful in later development stages.
Most major milestones in the first year involve being able to function from the prone position (face down)–rolling, lifting and turning their head, pushing themselves off the ground to get up to hands and knees, scooting, crawling, standing, etc.). Without a strong core developed by lots of tummy time, babies may have tougher times learning to crawl.
Tummy Time helps take pressure off of the back of your baby’s head and can help prevent positional plagiocephaly (flat spots) as well as help them develop strong neck muscles (pivotal for good feeding skills) and arm strength. In fact, most pediatric OTs will tell you that bearing weight through a baby’s arms and hands during tummy time is what helps them develop the strength and skill development they need in their upper bodies–as well as the visual coordination and use of hands they’ll use for skills in elementary school.
Yes, tummy time directly relates to success in elementary school, even into upper elementary grades. In fact, research shows that babies who spend at least 80 minutes per day (yes, EIGHTY) playing on their tummies are more successful in reaching motor milestones that involve the prone position (laying on their tummies), the supine position (laying on their backs) and the sitting positions when compared to their peers who had less tummy play/time.
When Do Babies Sit Up?
School success aside, most new parents want to know when their baby will be able to stand up. So often, we’ll marvel over the ‘strength’ of our babies–how they seem to want to stand before they even sit, or walk before they crawl. In fact, many mamas will proudly share how their littles went essentially from tummy time to walking, skipping crawling altogether.
The thing is…crawling is important. It’s really your baby’s first form of independent, purposed movement and more than anything? Crawling is pivotal to helping your baby’s sensory system be at its best. Crawling enhances our balance and vestibular system as well as offers us opportunity to strengthen problem-solving and coordination skills. Tummy time is essential to helping them crawl, and is a foundational stepping stone for appropriate sensory and physical development.
And just as tummy time is important for crawling, it’s also a key factor in the answer to the question, “When do babies sit up?”
Tummy time helps strengthen upper body and neck muscles that are required for your baby to sit up. Babies have to be able to hold their heads up without any support before they’re able to even consider sitting up. That means they have to have enough upper body and neck strength before they can sit up, and this typically happens around 4-6 months, and while many moms will tell of the feats of strengths their little ones displayed with ‘strong necks’ and ‘strong arms’ from the time they were born, it’s that repetitive muscle work that comes from tummy time and other exercises that helps get them ready to sit up by themselves. When they’re about 6-9 months or so, they can usually sit well without support, and they may even be able to get out of a standing position from a sit (even if with help) around 9-10 months.
All those incredible milestones we cheer on are strengthened by tummy time.
But My Baby Hates Tummy Time?
We understand. As we’ve said, we hear it (and have often said it) all the time. Babies don’t traditionally love tummy time. Or so you’ve heard and believed.
But think about it…if your baby has spent their literal entire lives in the fetal position inside your womb, they’re pretty used to a curved and flexed position. We swaddle them and hold them curled up, and we put them to sleep on their backs or in car seats/swings/strollers in their backs. Even in carriers, they can curl and nestle.
And then we put them on their tummies and all of a sudden, all those muscles that have been nice and snuggly in a forward curved position are used differently. They’re stretched. They’re lengthened. It feels different, and is definitely something they’re not used to. In those early months, how else can they let you know it’s weird and awkward and they’re not used to it (yet)?
Yep, crying. That’s the only way they can communicate they’re not fond of stretching those muscles and joints out (and can we ever relate?!) and it makes them uneasy. It’s usually at those first cries that we swoop in and cut tummy time short, so they really rarely have the opportunity to learn how to adjust to new positions, get comfortable and stay calm as you lovingly encourage them and connect with you and not focus on these strange new sensations.
Parenting is not for the weary, and there will be many times in our children’s lives that we’ll have to gently help them through the uncomfortabilities in life for their better good. Tummy time may be one of them, but there are things we can do to help make it easier.
Tummy Time Tips
When to start tummy time? It’s never too early! You can (and should) start encouraging tummy time and tummy laying as early as birth. It’s easy to start–just lay on your bed or floor yourself and let your baby lay on your tummy while laying on theirs. This can even be done skin-to-skin to encourage continued bonding and growth, and you may find that baby looks forward to this time and is soothed by it.
Start doing so in small increments and gradually build up, but shoot for your child to be in a tummy time position/activity at least 80-90 minutes a day by the time they’re 4-months old.
As they get older and you start letting them have some tummy time mat opportunities, help distract them from the weird feelings they may be having with fun visuals or toys.
The most important thing to remember about tummy time is that it’s all about the connection. If you just lay your baby on a mat and scatter a few toys for them to look at, they’re probably going to wonder why you went crazy. You and baby’s siblings (if any) are the biggest motivators for them to enjoying tummy time, so use this time to connect and engage. The more interaction, songs, communication and enticement to stay in tummy time position, the better!
When it comes to finding the best tummy time mat, it really depends on your space and your needs, but in our mama forums and in our own reviews based on use, the one that keeps hitting things out of the park when it comes to tummy time is the Lovevery Play Mat and Gym.
Lovevery already makes some of our favorite baby toys–Montessori-based, clean and non-toxic and full of developmentally appropriate motivation. That’s why we love the Lovevery Play Mat and Gym–it starts off as a great place for tummy time and moves into a fun play gym that inspires sensory systems to flourish.
Tummy time is so easy, and yet so difficult for many mamas. No one wants their baby to be uncomfortable or not like something, but when it comes to tummy time, the importance can’t be downplayed. When we know better, we do better, and ensuring that our little ones have enough prone position opportunity is key to their development. Just know that every time you engage in tummy time with your baby, you’re helping her take great strides toward milestone development!