Tummy time is key to your baby’s development, but it’s not always the easiest things to do. It's easy to forget, and when you remember, it's not the most enjoyable of experiences.
It was hard for us, especially with our first baby. We didn't feel confident and we ultimately left him on his back too often. That's why we designed the Heads Up tummy time sensory play mat.
Baby’s get upset quickly on their front as they figure out how to strengthen their core, neck and back muscles. So it can be a challenge to even want to make time for your baby spending time on their tummy.
However, putting your baby down on their front and building up the time they spend there from day one is essential. The experts recommend tummy time as a key part of improving your baby's overall physical development and that impacts on their wider development too, from language and communication to other finer motor skills.
We made the Heads Up tummy time mat to help make the whole experience a little more stress-free. It keeps babies on their front for longer by supporting and engaging them more effectively than standard play mats. Plus it gives them lots of sensory engagement to build up hand-eye coordination and visual development as well.
Once you're into a good routine of your baby spending time on their tummy there are six key things to look out for and encourage in your baby to help them along their developmental journey:
- Improving baby's neck movement
- Developing baby's trunk muscles
- Baby using arms and hands to lift themselves
- Baby developing responses to visual cues
- Baby twisting their neck and head
- Baby learning to roll over
1. Is tummy time improving your baby’s neck movement?
The first step in your baby’s development is learning to lift their head.
When they’re super little, this might just mean lifting their head up when they’re resting on your chest. As they get bigger, start to look for a full extension of their neck, lifting their head and looking right up to the sky.
It can be helpful to place things above their head or talk to them while standing above them so they’re encouraged to lift their heads right up to look up to the sky.
2. Is tummy time engaging and strengthening your baby’s trunk muscles?
The trunk muscles are those that run down your baby’s abdomen. There are five pairs of muscles (yes, a six-pack is only 60% of them!) that need strengthening to enable your baby to learn to reach, roll, sit up and eventually crawl and walk.
Tummy time helps your baby develop and strengthen these muscles. So as well as lifting their head, you want to look out for your baby progressing to lifting their tummy off the mat as well. The bigger the gap, the better.
The air cushioning we've designed in our Heads Up sensory water play mat can help encourage this, but placing things a little higher up for your baby to reach in front of them will also help.
3. Is tummy time encouraging your baby to lift themselves with their arms and hands?
As your baby learns to lift their tummy off the floor or mat, they’ll find they can use their arms and hands to help support the rest of their body.
Doing this will help strengthen your baby's shoulder muscles and will be an important part of their gross motor development – later helping them lift cups, spoons and other items to their mouth.
Heads Up will engage your baby’s hands and arms with the sensory floating shapes they can bash. This will start training them to work shoulders, hands and core in unison. You can also try placing other items they can grab just out of reach on the mat to help them extend their arms and engage their shoulder muscles.
4. Is tummy time helping your baby engage with new visual cues?
Whilst time on their front can seem like a whole lot of boring time looking down at the ground, it’s not necessarily the case for your baby.
In the first case, it’s a wildly different perspective to staring up at the ceiling, so it’s not that boring. But more importantly, it’s an opportunity for them to engage with visuals in front of them and connect what their eyes can see with what their hands can touch. Look out for your baby starting to play closer attention to what’s in front of them and beginning to reach, grab and bash things that they can see.
The Heads Up is designed to be filled with water with floating contrasting shapes for this very reason – it gives you a much clearer sense of whether they’re engaging with what’s in front of them.
As the shapes in the water move inside the Heads Up play mat, over time your baby’s eye and head movements should follow the shapes and eventually lead them to bash at, and try and grab, the floating shapes.
5. Is tummy time helping your baby twist their head to look at different things?
Early development of your baby’s neck and core muscles will help them learn to lift their head up off the mat, but extend that over time and they’ll be able to start looking left and right to look at different things.
Helping your baby learn to lift their head nice and high off the mat and then turn side-to-side is a great way to prevent flat head syndrome as they’ll be able to move their head to different angles even when laying on their back. Visual cues that help your baby track their movement are ideal at encouraging your baby to start developing sideways movement with their neck muscles engaged.
Strengthening neck muscles is so important in the early days to avoid putting pressure on a single spot of your baby's head when they're newborn. The sooner your baby can learn to lift (even slightly) and turn their head, the less likely they are to suffer from flat head syndrome.
Read more about why tummy time matters for preventing flat head syndrome here.
6. Is tummy time helping your baby learn to roll over
Your baby rolling from their back to their front, and vice versa is one of those “I’m doing well!” moments as a parent.
There’s something about them being able to move independently in such a dramatic way that feels like you’re doing your job of helping them build independence from you. Time on their front is a great way to strengthen the muscles they need to twist into a roll, while also giving them practice at the coordination it takes to twist and roll over as well.
The Heads Up mat cushioning support can give your baby a bit of a head start (no pun intended), with a little more cushioning to help them to twist more easily. Placing items to the side (at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock) will also help give them great reasons to reach and roll.