Everybody knows tummy time is important for babies. But do you know why?
Tummy time is important for the trajectory of your baby’s neuromusculoskeletal development. In this article, I'll go over this in detail in a way that's easy to understand. I'll also offer a few suggestions how you can sneak in some extra me time during your baby's "tummy time"
While in the womb, the baby is all tucked in nice and cozy. Their body is in prolonged flexion.
This is nothing to worry about and totally on par with nature.
But when they're born into this bright, bold, and beautiful world, they need to work to balance their little bodies.
When you put a baby on their stomachs, it puts them in extension. This position makes them use their muscles. It helps them hold their heads and entire bodies upright against gravity. It strengthens their glutes and paraspinal muscles. These are both really important for long-term muscular development.
It also helps with their sensory development. Do you remember what it felt like the first time you put on a bra when you were younger? That strange feeling of fabric on the front of your torso? That’s kind of how I imagine babies feeling about different surfaces touching them during tummy time.
It helps with their proprioception (AKA their ability to sense movement and location). When babies are in their tummies, they can then push off of a surface. This helps them feel their limbs and where they are in space. When they are on their backs and arms and legs can flail. There's nothing there to let them know where they are.
When babies are newborns, their eyesight is extremely limited. They can’t see much past their own limbs, which I think is intentional. This developmental progression helps them realize the limits and boundaries of their own existence.
When they are in tummy time, they are then required to lift their head against gravity. This is great for their neck muscles. But it can also stimulate their vestibular system. That's the inner-ear system that assists us with balance.
I'm always amazed how something as simple as positioning can have so many different benefits!
1. Try different times of day. With different people. On different surfaces. In small doses. You never know what’s going to “click”.
2. Do tummy time on your tummy. That way you are getting snuggly skin-to-skin time, too!
3. Consider chiropractic care or a pediatric physical therapist for your little one. From what I’ve seen, these two groups are the most practiced at newborn bodywork. Did you have an instrument-assisted delivery? Was the baby was in a funny position coming through the birth canal? If so, then their little body could be feeling a little jammed and uncomfortable. Some gentle intervention of manual therapy might go a long way.
Usually, when you’ve chosen to put your baby on its stomach for a few minutes, that means they are fed, clean, and happy. Moments like these can be so rare with newborns. So I encourage you to use these opportunities and quiet moments. Be present with your little one and do a few self-care activities.
Regardless of whether you’ve had a C-section or vaginal delivery... your pelvic floor had increased pressure on it for 9 months. So, I recommend doing some gentle range of motion exercises with your pelvic floor. This will help your brain reconnect with the full functionality of this muscle group. Gently contract your pelvic floor (like a Kegel), relax it, and ever so gently (less is more) bear down.
For this one you can get down on your tummy too. Without over-arching your low back (so your torso stays pretty low to the ground), try winking, or just subtly contracting one glute at a time. This is to help you activate your glutes to protect your back and avoid overuse of your hamstrings.
You can be in any position for this. Pull your shoulder blades down and back and hold for 5-10 seconds. This is a GREAT way to mitigate some of that forward motion/rounded shoulders that happens with holding a newborn and/or breastfeeding.
If your baby is doing their tummy time on your tummy, can gently draw your belly button away from them. Engage your transverse abdominis muscle. This is one of the 4 deep core muscles that work with your pelvic floor, diaphragm, and multifidus to manage the pressure on your deep core. It also takes significant pressure off the discs in your back. Think of it as your body’s natural brace.
Inhale and expand your ribs out to the side like an accordion. Exhale and knit them together. This type of breathing takes the pressure off your pelvic floor. It can also calm your nervous system down.
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