Imagine you are a newborn baby. Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, you find yourself in a completely new world. You are not able to fully control the movements of your body and there is that strange feeling of being constantly and mercilessly pulled down.
That feeling is the force of gravity, which right now is a really strong opponent that you somehow need to learn to live with. Besides catapulting yourself into space (which is maybe not the best idea :)), there’s no escaping gravity.
Up to now, your body has been doing mostly flexing and bending. The womb was small and cozy. Now, the enormous world and the force of gravity mean you have to open up…
And this is only the beginning of all the changes that are coming. It’s a lot to handle for less than 10 lbs. of happiness, right? 😉
WHAT DOES HEAD CONTROL LOOK LIKE IN THE MONTHS TO COME?
- When on the tummy, newborns are not yet able to keep their heads up, but they make successful attempts to turn their heads from side to side. Babies’ legs are bent, their elbows are pulled back behind the shoulder line, and their hands are tucked under their chests.
- In the 2nd month of life, babies are able to control their heads in the midline of their bodies. They can keep their heads raised for a short period of time and turn it from side to side. Babies chins are closer to their chests and, although their legs are still bent, they are no longer bent as tightly as before. Their elbows are still pulled back behind the shoulders, but compared to the first month, they are moving forward.
- In the 3rd month of life, babies can keep their heads up much longer. They control their heads in the midline of their bodies and look straight ahead, but can also move their heads freely to the sides. Their legs are relaxed and straightened with elbows are placed in line with the shoulders.
This is the time we start to see symmetrical propping on the forearms, which is an important milestone in the process of child development.
- In the following months, babies’ positions get higher, so that not only their heads, but also their chests and tummies are raised. Babies moves away from full symmetry in order to experiment with shifting their body weight to the sides.
Okay, but… let’s get back to the topic.
WHY YOUR BABY MIGHT NOT LIKE LYING ON THE TUMMY:
1. IT’S TOO DIFFICULT
There is no doubt that lying on the tummy, or rather lifting up a relatively large and heavy head, involves a lot of effort.
Some children calmly face the challenge and just turn their head from one side to the other, in the meantime giving themselves time to rest, but others seem to have it a bit harder. They fight with the force of gravity with all their strength until it finally defeats them.
- To understand that, you have to FEEL it. So, I encourage you to take up a little challenge. Only the ones who are willing to try can go on with reading the rest of the post. 🙂 (I’m not kidding, I also had to do such “tests” during my trainings and I admit that it really helped! 😊).
Please, lie on your stomach in a position that resembles that of a newborn.
Bend your knees. Then, bend your arms and tuck them under your chest. Clench your fists and keep them in a position where your fingers (and not the back of the hands) are touching the floor.
I know it’s a strange feeling when your bottom is raised higher than your head, but well… that’s how it is for a newborn. 😊
Now, try to lift your head up for a little while. Turn it from one side to the other.
In the long-run, it’s rather uncomfortable, right?
Alright — now you know what the baby feels while lying on the tummy in the first month of life.
Now, reach your arms slightly forward. Pull the elbows back behind the shoulder line, but not as far as before. You can straighten your legs a little more.
Now raise your head.
It’s a bit easier this time, but in the long-run, it’s still hard to imagine lying in a position like this for 15 to 20 minutes, right?
Can you feel your forearms pushing into the floor? That’s how it’s supposed to be! 😊
Congratulations! Now you know how your baby feels while lying on the tummy at the age of 2 months. 😊
Now, straighten your legs. Let your hips rest on the floor. Place your elbows in line with your shoulders.
Is that better? I think so! 😉 Can you feel your forearms pushing harder into the floor???
But… wait a minute. Now, it’s time for some activity! Move your shoulders away from your ears! 😉
That’s right! There you have it!
It feels nice, however, unless you’re “hanging” on your shoulders, it’s a challenge… 😉
In short, this is what it’s like for the babies put on the tummy at the end of the 3rd month of life.
I think that after this short test, no one has any doubts that lying on the tummy is quite difficult at first, but as the technical aspects change (the legs begin to straighten, the hips move closer to the floor and the arms reach forward), it gets easier.
All of that happens spontaneously and is a consequence of natural development, so there is no need to interfere with it. However, if your baby rebels against tummy time, there are some ways to make it a little more comfortable.
HOW TO HELP?
If your baby clearly doesn’t like lying on the tummy, you can try to make the force of gravity their ally, not the enemy!
If you know, by your baby’s raised bottom and the forward shift of his or her body weight, that lying on the tummy is difficult, place the baby on your lap positioning his or her hips lower than the shoulders.
The center of gravity will then move towards the baby’s bum and the head will become relatively lighter. 😉
The second reason why babies may not like lying on their tummies is…
2. THE LACK OF SKILL WITH PUSHING INTO THE FLOOR
Remember, during the test, how you felt your forearms pushing hard into the floor?
Now, please lie down this way again, but lift your forearms.
Do you feel the tension in your neck and back muscles? How long can you hold this position?
Probably not too long.
But that’s good, because this position does not give you a sense of balance nor good cooperation between the front and back torso muscles.
The back muscles have worked really hard. The muscles in the chest and stomach have been stretched. In such conditions, you can’t get good quality tummy time. It’s rather a struggle.
That’s why, it’s so important that babies prop their forearms and push them into the floor while lying on the tummy. This is one of the most significant elements ensuring good cooperation between individual muscle groups.
For that reason, every time you put a rolled-up towel under the baby’s armpits, make sure that it’s not too big, so that the child’s forearms are able to touch the floor.
WHAT ELSE CAN BE HELPFUL?
You already know that the key to success is the BALANCED work of individual muscle groups. When babies are not able to push into the floor, their spines have to work harder. So now it’s time to come up with something to encourage the front muscles of the torso to work as well. 😊
How to do that?
It may seem unrelated, but… playing on the back is a great idea. 😊
By placing your hand on your baby’s chest, you encourage him or her to bring their hands together in the midline of the body and, after the 3rd month of life, to reach the arms forward, to lift up bent legs, and to roll to the sides. All of this will make the front muscles come to life. 😊
3. TOO SOFT MATTRESS
That’s right! A mattress that is too soft can make lying on the tummy quite difficult.
Babies need stability. They need solid feedback from the surroundings.
When pushing into a soft surface, babies don’t receive the right kind of feedback.
A hard surface gives them clear feedback that they are pushing into it — you felt it too during our little experiment, right? Your joints received very clear feedback.
So, it’s no coincidence that during physical therapy, compression techniques are used by pressing the joints to easier remember certain positions.
That’s why, if your baby has difficulty with lying on the tummy, make sure that the surface on which he or she lies is not too soft.
The discomfort associated with acid reflux could be a reason why your baby doesn’t feel good on the tummy.
High acid content causes irritation of the delicate mucous membrane, a burning sensation, and pain.
While it has been proven that such incidents don’t happen so much during sleep, they may happen when the baby is active. (American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend sleeping on the tummy).
In such cases, the first thing to do is to get rid of the cause of discomfort. So, for example, it’s advisable to deal with acid reflux by recognizing its source.
Only the elimination of the cause can bring long-lasting effects. (Read more about acid reflux)
These are just some of the reasons why babies may be reluctant to lie on the tummy in the first months of life. However, one thing’s for sure — learning about these reasons is worth it. Especially, when we want to cope with them effectively. 😊
Remember that every child is different. That’s why, an individual approach is what’s really important here.
It’s also crucial that we, as parents, pay attention to how we lift and carry our baby, as well as to the playtime activities that we incorporate into our daily routines. For that reason, I encourage you to take a closer look at the topic of “baby-friendly care.”
To end on an optimistic note, as the technical aspects change over time, the vast majority of children begin to feel more and more comfortable on the tummy, and around the age of 6-7-8 months, they want to stay on the tummy all the time. 😊
As for the parents of 5-month-olds who’ve made it this far in the article, I encourage you to get familiar with the topic of “swimming” — a very specific activity that sometimes can cause a lot of stress. 😉
You already know that playtime activities can be a great way to encourage your baby to get more comfortable with lying on the tummy. I’ve collected many playtime ideas in my e-book for you and your baby! See for yourself and ENJOY! 🥳
E-book: A COLLECTION OF IDEAS FOR THE MOST FUN PLAYTIME WITH YOUR CHILD