smiling baby on tummy: why tummy time is so important for babies

Placing a baby on his or her stomach only while awake and supervised, can help your baby develop strong neck and shoulder muscles and promote motor skills!

What are motor skills?

Motor skills refer to the ability of the child to move and control their body and all its parts. Motor skills are dependent on:

  • maturation of the brain,
  • sensory input,
  • the muscles, and
  • opportunities for practicing motor skills.

Order of development:

If one looks at the order of the infant’s motor development, one notices organisation and direction. Firstly, motor control of the head comes before control of the arms and trunk, and control of the arms and trunk is achieved before control of the legs – in short, from head to tail.

Secondly, motor development proceeds from the centre of the body outwards. The head-, trunk-, and arm control is mastered before coordination of the hands and fingers.

These central muscles or core muscles (think belly and back) are the muscles that develop through tummy time and are the first step in developing actions such as crawling, standing and walking. Muscle control is crucial for everyday selfcare skills like dressing (where you need to be able to stand on one leg to step into a pant leg without falling over) and climbing into and out of a car, or even getting into and out of bed. It is also the muscles that need to be well developed for hands and fingers to work properly later on, thus fine motor control is needed for tasks like writing.

ALSO READ: The benefit of stimulation classes for moms and babies

My baby hates tummy time, what should I do?

Sometimes babies hate tummy time simply because they can’t lift their head or push up with their arms to look around. Place a small rolled up towel under the chest (arms must be over the towel) and put an interesting item in front of them to look at. This help to make them feel more comfortable.

The body network:

We must be careful not to think of motor skills as isolated, unrelated things that follow a fixed timetable. Each new motor skill is not only a product of change but also a contributor to future achievements. Once a new motor skill is attained, it must be refined to become accurate, smooth and efficient before the next motor skill can start to develop. Please give your child ample time to practice each new achievement. Practice makes perfect!

Ideas for core development:

  • Don’t keep a child in a car chair or baby seat in the house. Give your child as much freedom as possible to be on a carpet and explore his/her muscles, kicking and stretching, developing motor control.
  • Place the child on his/her tummy. Shake a rattle or crumple a paper bag on each side of the head so that the child turns towards the sound.
  • Place the child on his/her tummy. Place a wind-chime or homemade mobile that makes a pleasant sound, in front and slightly above the child to encourage the lifting of the head.
  • Carry your baby so they face away from you, (in a face-down position). It will encourage the child to lift his/her head. Support the body and neck as much as needed.

READ NEXT: Why messy play is important for your baby’s development & 5 activities to try

Article by Danielle Petzer of Mothers & Miracles Highlands North. For more information, email Danielle on highlandsnorth@mothersandmiracles.co.za