Tips to make tummy time fun for baby, stress free for parents

Most new parents relish the idea of any activity that helps their baby grow, develop and gain strength. And for the most part, babies are pretty positive about those types of activities too – except when it comes to their introduction to "tummy time."

"I’ll never forget the first time I put my son on his stomach for ‘tummy time’ like the pediatrician had recommended," says Sarah Sawyer, a mother of three from Denver, Colo. "Within a few seconds he was red in the face and screaming at the top of his lungs. His little head flopped around and I could tell he was miserable. I was heartbroken that I had put him through this, and I knew I had to find a way to make the experience more fun and comfortable for him."

In 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics began recommending parents put their babies to sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Since its inception, the Back-to-Sleep Campaign is credited with reducing SIDS deaths by 50 percent. With babies spending so much time on their backs, however, they may be missing out on the important developmental and physical benefits of having time on their tummies. Plus, babies who lay on their backs too long may develop bald, or even flat, spots on their heads.

To combat these problems, pediatricians now recommend parents place infants on their tummies for supervised playtime. Newborns, however, often rebel against being placed on their stomachs for play. Most babies eventually learn to enjoy tummy time as their motor skills and physical strength improve. Still, finding ways to make tummy time as fun and comfortable as possible – as soon as possible – can make the experience more positive for both baby and parents.

Here are some tips for making tummy time fun for baby and stress free for parents:

* Comfort is key. Make sure baby is dressed in comfy, loose-fitting clothes that allow ease of movement. Choose the floor surface carefully. Avoid hard or slippery surfaces. Consider using a play product specifically designed for tummy time, such as the Boppy Tummy Play Pad. Available in designs for boys and girls, the generously sized pad creates a comfortable spot for baby to play in a prone position and includes stimulating, repositionable toys to keep her entertained. Boppy is the same company that makes the popular feeding pillow.

* Company makes it more fun. While your baby is on her tummy, get down on the floor beside her, as close to her level as possible, so she can see you are with her. Remember, many babies object to tummy time because it limits what they can see and do. If your baby sees you beside her — making funny faces, offering a toy or even just holding eye contact — she’s likely to feel more secure.

* Start out slowly. Long periods on her tummy, when she’s not used to the position, can be stressful for any baby. Instead of attempting a marathon session all at once, ease your baby into the experience, starting out with a minute or less of tummy time. Pick her up, soothe and comfort her, and try again. And learn to read baby’s signs of when she’s had enough.

* Give her props. Giving baby a new perspective by propping her up under her arms may help make tummy time more fun for her. If your baby has some control of her head and neck, which often occurs by 4 months, a pillow under her armpits may give her the elevation she needs to enjoy tummy time. The Boppy Tummy Play Pad comes with a built-in pillow that fits perfectly under baby’s armpits to prop her up.

* Safety should never be secondary. Tummy time is ultimately intended to benefit babies by helping them develop strength and motor skills. But don’t compromise on safety. If you see your baby is tiring or if she is unable to shift her head to the side from a facedown position, pick her up immediately and try again later when she’s well-rested. Never leave a baby alone on the floor or any other surface; adult supervision is a must for safety.

Patience and perseverance will help most babies learn to enjoy tummy time. "And really," says Sawyer, "the time when babies are this helpless is so short and sweet, you’ll probably find yourself missing your baby’s tummy time days when he’s toddling around getting into everything he can reach."