My baby hates Tummy Time. Now What?

Tummy Time with our babies

Tummy Time with our babies

The problem arises...

When I am getting background information on a baby, I typically ask the parent about Tummy Time.  How often they do it with their baby, how their baby handles being on their stomach, ect.  This information gives me as a physical therapist insight into the child’s ability to move in positions other than supine (on his back), into neck and shoulder muscle strength, and possible indications of medical problems including acid reflux that would require physician follow-up care.  Before I digress into these background details, I want to address a phrase I often hear, “My baby hates tummy time.”  Now, I get it.  Your child just woke up from a nice nap, she smiles and is happy.  As an active parent, you think, this is a perfect time to practice tummy time.  You place her on the mat with some toys in front of her, and not 10 seconds later…the crying starts.

So, what happened? Is it pain?

Parents often ask me if it means there child is in pain.  My answer is, “Not usually.” Babies are smart and have developed a great physiological way to get Mom’s attention…the cry.  When a child is placed in a position that is new and challenging, they use that form of communication to let Mom know that they are no longer in the comfort of the swaddle, but forced to move in a new way.  The cool thing about babies is they adjust quickly with consistency.  

Why is she crying?

A big reason why babies cry when placed on the stomach is two-fold.  First, you are cutting of the visual field.  Think about it.  When a child is on their back, or supported in sitting, they are free to look out into the world and use their vision to learn, grow and move.  When you place the baby flat on the stomach, a child has to use newly developing neck and shoulder muscles to lift the head against gravity which cuts the visual field way down.  This is usually frustrating to an infant who relies heavily on visual input for development.  

Second, the child is moving against gravity.  By being placed on the stomach, the child has to use arm, shoulder, neck and back strength in order to pivot to reach for toys.  This is way more challenging then positions on the back or side.

Quick Tips to improve Tummy Time: 

Modify the position. 

Use a rolled-up blanket or towel under the chest to help support the child’s core and shoulders as they engage in Tummy Time.

This is a quick tip to modify tummy time using a blanket roll. 

Get down on the floor!  

Guess what, Mom, you have the best motivating tool out there, and that’s your face!  Get on the floor and reinforce that baby with a big smile and kiss each time they look up at you.

After practicing as a licensed doctor of physical therapy for over 10 years, I have worked with patients and parents of all stages of development to accomplish this super important skill.  Please contact me with any questions or concerns!

Subscribe to our Boost Babies Blog mailing list

* indicates required