Why Your Baby Fusses During Tummy Time and Practical Tips for a More Rewarding Experience

Tummy time seems like such a simple concept. You watchfully place your baby on their belly to spend some time wiggling and playing on their tummy. But then you try it... 


And, you find out that it isn’t as fun as it originally sounded. Instead you are left with a new set of questions. Add that to the list of parenting conundrums. 


Do any of these sound familiar to you?


  • “My baby hates tummy time!”


  • “I try and they just cry”


  • “She fusses and seems unhappy on her belly.”


  • “His face is always smooshed into the floor and he just looks uncomfortable.”


These are the comments I heard all the time from the lovely Mama’s that I serve. I have personally gone through the Tummy Time stage twice. So believe me when I say – I totally get this, Mama! 


Tummy Time Can be a Tad Overwhelming to Get Right


With my first child, I had no idea what the heck I was doing. I even had knowledge from an education that included infant and child development. However, I realized my clinical work focused mainly with toddlers and older kids and I had the same questions as other new parents.


I remember struggling to implement tummy time with my first one. I had to take a step back and put my clinician hat back on, and put in a considerable time investment to research both the theory and the practical implementation of tummy time. Once I did this, it all started to make a lot more sense to me. 


Lucky for me, I fell in love with all things mom and baby related during my first year with my first child, and I developed a passion for helping mamas all over the world reduce the overwhelm in the areas of infant sleep and development.


Because I took the time to learn and try, tummy time with my second was WAY easier!  I really felt like I knew what I was doing and could support her in feeling much more comfortable early on in the whole tummy time experience. Tummy time literally felt like a breeze the second time around!


Understanding Why Babies Fuss During Tummy Time

Many babies will struggle and fuss during early sessions of Tummy Time. But, this is not a reason to stop doing it! It will change everything when you understand the WHY behind the fussing. 


Tummy Time can be hard, but it is such important work for your baby.


1. Consider that baby has spent its first nine months of life in the liquid floating space of the womb. The world of gravity is a real surprise after a life of floating!1


2. During infancy the head is the biggest and heaviest part of the body1. It is bigger than the baby’s bottom! Imagine if your head was bigger than your bottom. It would be a struggle to lift your head up too, wouldn’t it?


3. A baby’s spine has minimal curves when born. The developmental movement patterns starting with tummy time help to develop those curves. This creates the foundation and architecture for the body to stand up1.


4. The anxiety we as parents bring to it rubs off on our babies. We are worried about tummy time.  So the baby thinks they need to worry too – and starts fussing. 


5. It is kind of like adults hitting the gym after a long period of not working out. Afterwards our bodies ache, and during the exercise – we feel the stretch of extending our body’s limits. So we often need a push to stick with it. It is the same for babies.


Those are a lot of good reasons for some fussing. But, I’ve got some good ideas to help you as the parent. Because, tummy time does some really good things for your developing baby. 


A Little Fussing but a lot of Developmental Skills 


What if I told you that tummy time isn't just about being on the belly! Are you surprised? I was too!


Tummy time provides a great opportunity for the baby to improve strength in the arms and trunk for later skills. Without tummy time, some babies do not crawl at all. Which leads to more impacted skills because crawling is important for building other developmental skills2. 


These include:  

  • bilateral coordination

  • upper arm and hand strength

  • postural control 

  • trunk strength

  • visual accommodation for near and far.


According to researchers, babies who spend virtually no time on their tummies may experience developmental delays. In fact, did you know that an estimated 1 in 40 babies are being diagnosed with early motor delays?2


Tummy time is more than just strengthening the baby's neck and shoulders. Being on the floor, especially on the tummy, helps your baby to trust, explore, and learn about their surroundings.


It's about learning how to work with the floor, the ground, the surface that supports us our entire lives. It's about discovering and practicing how to move with and against gravity. Something we all take for granted but is a brand new skill  for the baby.


The good news. It is easy to begin with a small amount of tummy time at a young age. You can begin placing your baby on her belly as soon as the umbilical cord has fallen off. Newborns  begin by rooting around and  beginning to lift their heads.


Here are my Absolute Favourite Tips for a Successful Tummy Time


Try some or all of these ideas to help your baby improve and even enjoy their tummy time. 


1. Add Some Entertainment


During tummy time, feel free to talk, sing, and play with your baby. Keep them interested and engaged! This can be a great bonding time for babies and caregivers. Use toys, scarves, and instruments to help.


2. Respond to Your Baby’s Limits


Don’t overdo it in one go. I suggest trying a little at a time and keep building it up over time. Even starting with a minute or two and then adding more time will help when your baby is a newborn. 


Babies change and grow constantly. Give your baby a chance to keep trying but don’t push it too far. Observe what your baby’s learning edge is and then stop. If your baby cries at a level of true discomfort then stop and soothe her. Try again later.


3. Build Tummy Time into Your Routine


Diaper changes, either before or during, is a great opportunity to add in some tummy time. This happens multiple times in a day so it could become a routine part of diapering.


4. Prepare Your Baby with Relaxing Activities


Massaging your baby on her tummy amidst diaper changing is a wonderful way to prepare you baby for a relaxing and soothing tummy time experience. Singing favourite lullabies or other gentle songs while doing this is extra-beneficial for both mom and the baby.


5. Less Clothing Equals Richer Sensory Experience


Babies love being naked because human skin has tons of sensory receptors. Have your baby in a onesie, or try her naked, without a diaper, on a mat - for an even richer experience.  This will help them feel their bodies, as well as the surfaces around them much more easily.  Think of yourself in barefeet versus socked feet.  Which experience offers you more input? Yup, it is the same for babies!



Fun tummy time experiences means your baby won’t need to spend as much time in baby gear such as bouncers and swings.  What a great win for keeping your baby happy without having to hold her all day.


Also, don’t forget to be aware of your own emotions and responses during tummy time. This is especially true when your baby fusses during the initial tummy time experience. Babies are intelligent and pick up everything you do and say. You don’t want to inadvertently establish a negative emotion around tummy time. Instead, encourage your baby, sing songs, or change the activity. 



Your Dedication to a Positive Tummy Time Experience Will Pay Off

Having a positive Tummy Time experience is about helping your baby to trust the world around them. It helps your baby to discover that the world is safe, supportive, and endlessly fascinating.


I hope you found knowledge or ideas to have some amazing tummy time experiences with your baby. My background in child development gave me lots of knowledge but my experiences as a mother myself gave me an extra boost of passion. I love supporting babies and mamas, so reach out with any questions and concerns.  


Feel free to email me at kaili@kailiets.com with your questions regarding tummy time and any other child development queries you may have.



If you are wanting some more support with tummy time and infant development, consider joining one of my Babies @ Play classes.  These classes are parent/baby classes focused on infant development and we do lots of fun activities and songs to help with tummy time, rolling, crawling and more, while also learning more about the science behind infant development.  This is a great place to come and connect with other moms, get the support you need, and ultimately find your village!!  And guess what, the classes are available online worldwide or in-person, if you are in the Toronto area. 


You can register for the next round of classes for May-June 2020 right here.







References

1. Adolph, K. E., & Franchak, J. M. (2017). The development of motor behavior. Wiley interdisciplinary reviews. Cognitive science8(1-2), 10.1002/wcs.1430. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5182199/

2. Annette Majnemer and Ronald G Barr, "Influence of Supine Sleep Positioning on Early Motor Milestone Acquisition," https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15934485

Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology 47, no. 6 (February 13, 2007): 370-376.

3. Morea A, Jessel J., (2020) Comparing the effects of varied and constant preferred items on improving tummy time for typically developing infants, Journal of Applies Behavioral Analysis, Feb, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32026464 

1 Comment

  1. This is a wonderful post! I really appreciate you sharing a little about WHY tummy time is hard for our babies and what they might be thinking or feeling during tummy time to make them uncomfortable. I also love the tips you have to have a successful tummy time experience. I never would have thought to transition from diaper time to tummy time or try tummy time without clothes for the added sensory experience. Thanks for the advice! :)

Leave a Comment