Every mama wants to set their baby up for success, right? This is a solid start!
As a pediatric OT (occupational therapist), if I could teach new parents one thing for building a solid foundation for their child’s development, it’s tummy time. Or, as I like to call it,
Belly Down Bare Feet time.
One of the MOST important things to do with your baby, from day 1, is tummy time. Belly down time is one of the greatest investments we can make for their physical and emotional development. When this solid base and strength to grow and develop as they’re designed to is created, there doesn’t have to be as much effort put into achieving other milestones. Strength built through belly down time allows them to move through their milestones with ease. When the focus is on belly down time, strong babies are developed and strong foundations are built.
The sooner this skill, this foundation, is developed, the better. This foundation is crucial for growth, exploration, connection, meeting milestones, integrating reflexes, emotional development, and so much more. It’s their foundation for doing everything they do in life!
A Run Down of Belly Down Time Benefits
Grows the brain
Allows for free movement
Builds the core
Creates a stable base
Builds up neck, back, glutes, and shoulder muscles
Lays the foundation for vision
Lets them engage in their world
Lays the foundation for ALL the rest of their motor skills and milestones
Yup. I want YOU to get on the floor with your baby. Some babies need more encouragement than others and that’s where your investment comes in, mama. It requires your time and attention. It’s an investment in the beginning, but quickly they can be belly down independently.
Getting down on their level is ESPECIALLY important as they are growing, becoming stronger, and getting comfortable being belly down on the floor. This shows them this is a safe place, this is where we hang, together, on the floor. When you get on the floor with your baby, you encourage them, you show them they matter, and that you’ll be there for them. Your baby will feel important and valued that you joined them. When it’s hard, having you on the floor and showing your support is everything!
How to Belly Down
Happy or content?
Let your baby know what you’re going to do and then put them on their belly.
Stay with them (as talked about). Smile, be on their level.
If they cry, acknowledge their experience (i.e. this is tricky, you need a break, you want me to join you, etc.) and roll them (or scoop them) into a break.
Next time they are content, try belly down time again!
Bonus! Do it bare feet as much as possible so they can grip with their toes and experience more than just cotton!
You Don’t Have to Power Through The Tears
Yes, some babies will need more encouragement than others, BUT that doesn’t mean belly down time has to be full of tears. If you’ve tried many times and your baby still isn’t tolerating any belly down time, activate your mama detective hat (but really, does it ever come off!?!) to see what is making belly down time challenging.
Potential reasons belly down time might be challenging:
Lack of opportunities/poor strength
Colic (which is a symptom, not diagnosis)
Muscle tone (low or high)
Not attempting until older (weakness)
You don’t have to power through the tears. Let’s work together and do some problem solving.
Take Some Pressure off, Mama
Did you know there are variations, modifications, and so many different ways to do belly down time? It doesn’t have to be formal!
One of our favorites is belly down on you (this is a great bonding opportunity for dads too!). Belly down time can be a little less comfy on the floor in the beginning, so this is a great way to start building that foundation, from day 1. Sleeping and resting on their bellies (on you) gets them used to being on their bellies early on.
Another variation we like is sidelying. Yup, this counts because baby is learning that not only do they have a front and back, but they have sides too! With this position, little ones may need some physical support to maintain this position. You could try a rolled pillow or blanket behind their back to prevent them from rolling onto their back or placing a hand on their hip to help stabilize. Or, my personal favorite, sidelying facing you! Remember that investment you’re making by getting down on the floor with them? This is it! And don’t forget to do both sides!
Make it fun for both of you. Faces are one of the best toys and entertainment for babies, they are so fascinating! When you are on the floor with them, you are able to observe how they move and how they respond, especially when you smile, sing, and say what they notice. The fun factor is increased when you are with them. Include siblings or pets too!
Turn That Clock Off
Frequency over duration. Frequency over duration. Frequency over duration.
I don’t like to give you a set amount of time to do belly down time per day because I don’t want you clock watching. Instead, watch your baby’s response to it and take some pressure off.
To help you remember to do it frequently, you can try pairing it with a diaper change.
You Got This!
The story shouldn’t end at “oh, my baby hated tummy time so we didn’t do it.”
As an OT, I want it to be easy for your baby (and you too). Belly down time can be simple and enjoyable, for everyone!
If you’re struggling with it, please reach out!