It’s common knowledge that tummy time is key to developing the strength and motor skills needed for reaching, rolling over, sitting up, and crawling. What is not always common knowledge is that tummy time is also critical for brain development. This has been proven by psychologists and neuroscientists over the past several decades. Tummy time exercises and movements, including lifting and rolling, push-ups, reaching, belly creeping, and crawling; all help develop the lower centers of the brain.

In recent years, however, tummy time is on the decline due to the prevalence of bouncers, swings,  and jumpers which are attractive and fun accessories that new parents are eager to buy and try with their children. For many parents, these gadgets keep the baby from being exposed to germs that he might encounter when playing outside or on the floor, and for others, they simply provide a welcome break from holding, rocking, and carrying. For your little one, these devices might seem to be more entertaining, dynamic, and fun than playing on the floor, but they have their cons. Fortunately, it’s possible to keep your fun gadgets, as well as foster and promote your baby’s brain development by ensuring adequate tummy time. 

Let’s talk about the brain

The brain is the most complex organ in the human body, and one of the most crucial parts is the brain stem. 

When a baby is born, the first part of his tiny brain to develop is the brain stem. Among other functions, the brain stem is crucial for emotional regulation, body regulation, visual and verbal functions, as well as motor planning and coordination. While the brain stem is the first part of the brain to develop, brain maturation is a natural process that parents can support and optimize. Experts agree that, from a neurological perspective, the most important position for the infant is on his belly on the floor.

How do I know what to look for?

In infancy, the foundation areas are developed through movements such as head raising, reaching, rolling, belly creeping, and crawling. The great thing is that babies are wired to instinctively perform these actions that are required to develop their brains. Most of these movements can be done while playing on the floor or other flat surfaces. 

Therefore, when you see your little one exerting effort and possibly struggling to roll over from his back to his stomach and from his stomach to his back, don’t rush in to hold him or help. Your little one is not just learning a new physical skill, he is developing critical parts of his brain.

How much tummy time is right?

Babies should spend a significant amount of time on their tummies in order to go through the fundamental patterns that wire the brain and lay the foundations for later learning, socialization, coordination, and healthy behavior. 

The following is a simple guide for parents regarding the amount of tummy time required according to age. 

  • 0-3 months: 30 minutes of tummy time 
  • 3-6 months: 60 minutes of tummy time
  • 6 months or more: 90 minutes per day

At this point, they might be ready to start crawling, too!

It’s always good to keep in mind that timing does not necessarily have to be completed in one event. Small increments will tend to work best.

How to encourage tummy time with your little one

Even though tummy time boosts physical and motor development, some babies will resist it. Keep in mind that your baby will always thrive best when he is having fun, so here are some tips for making tummy time a blast:

  • The earlier you start, the better! You can start within days of birth by laying him on your chest so that he gets familiarized with being on his tummy.
  • Provide a smooth surface that your baby can move across when he is ready.
  • Get down on your belly facing your baby and coo and talk to him.
  • Provide a small baby-safe mirror so that he can watch himself move.
  • Mimic your baby’s movements: stretch your head up, crawl on your belly, creep on your hands and knees, roll-over, and sit up.
  • Ensure that your baby’s arms and legs are free to move.
  • Keep his feet and hands uncovered, so that he can use them for belly creeping -an important fundamental pattern. Socks and long sleeves are slippery and make it difficult to gain the friction necessary for belly creeping. 
  • Play lively music and sing along.
  • Invite older siblings to join in the fun.
  • Add toys, blocks, and rattles that encourage creeping and reaching.

Don’t rush!

Parents, especially high achievers, are always keen to help their children achieve milestones as early as possible. While this is fully understandable and, in many cases laudable, don’t rush walking! Your baby will walk soon enough and in the meantime, tummy time is doing wonders for his body and brain. Ensuring enough tummy time is one of the best things you can do for your child’s future physical development.