Have you ever put your happy, smiling little one belly-down on a play mat, surrounded by toys to stimulate their little mind, only to have them whine, cry, and kick in protest? If so, you've probably found yourself wondering why your baby is frustrated during tummy time because, seriously, kid. This is supposed to be fun.
As fun as you may think having a bunch of toys on the floor within arm's reach should be, your baby is actually doing important work during tummy time, Dr. Sarah Schaffer DeRoo, a pediatrician with Children's National Hospital tells Romper. "Tummy time, or supervised time that an infant spends on the abdomen while awake, is important for the development of gross motor skills that lead to sitting, rolling, and crawling," she says. "It is also thought to decrease the risk for brachycephaly, or the flattening of the head that is associated with sleeping on the back."
While crucial to your baby's development, tummy time can bring about tears of frustration for several reasons. Namely: it's work.
"Tummy time is hard work," pediatrician Dr. Natasha Burgert tells Romper. "It's working muscles against gravity, just like the stress you feel when you lift weights at the gym."
In addition to how difficult it may feel to use their brand-spanking-new muscles in this way, the pure irritation of not being positioned the way your baby wants to be can also make them fuss. "Because they are not accustomed to being placed on their bellies, babies may appear frustrated by crying or fussing," Schaffer DeRoo explains. "Babies may also become frustrated if they cannot reach for a toy or other item of interest while spending time on their tummies."
My oldest son loved to be held. Although content to be cuddled all day and night, I also knew it was important for him to stretch out and move. But anytime I put him down on his stomach to give my arms a break? Instant tears. Unfortunately, his tummy time troubles were more than just frustration, and he was diagnosed with reflux at about 4 months old.
Like my son, in addition to the hard work of tummy time, some babies may be extra fussy during tummy time for health-related reasons, but fortunately, this can usually be easily remedied. "Tummy time may worsen infant reflux making infants a little more uncomfortable, so for that reason it is best to have tummy time prior to rather than after a feeding," Dr. Talia Levy, Pediatric Hospitalist at The Herman & Walter Samuelson Children's Hospital at Sinai tells Romper.
If your little one gets frustrated during tummy time, experts agree that there are a few tricks to try and convince your little one that hanging out on their belly for a bit actually isn't all that bad. "Break tummy time into shorter sessions and stimulate your baby during tummy time by lying on the floor in front of your baby so she can see your face," pediatrician Dr. Whitney Casares tells Romper. "When your baby starts to get frustrated, move her to a different position for a while before attempting tummy time again."
Although you may think of tummy time as strictly your baby on a play mat or blanket on the floor, spending tummy time in another place can help make it more enticing. "Tummy time on the floor counts, but so does carrying baby on her belly or spending time chest to chest. Anything that gets her to use her upper shoulder and back muscles will help develop muscular strength," Burgert says. "And don't forget older siblings! Encourage older siblings to get on their bellies to help the new baby with tummy time. The distraction and connection will do the trick."
Seeing your baby move and learn all about the big, new world around them can be awe-inspiring. But, if they're getting frustrated over and over again during tummy time, moving on from the activity and trying again later can help save you both from shedding too many tears. "It's OK to put them in a different position when your infant has had enough," Levy says. "Over time, they will be able to tolerate longer periods of time on their bellies."
Natasha Burgert, MD, FAAP, pediatrician in South Overland Park, KS
Whitney Casares, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.A.P. is the author of The New Baby Blueprint: Caring for You and Your Little One
Sarah Schaffer DeRoo, MD, pediatrician at Children's National Hospital
Talia Levy, MD, Pediatric Hospitalist at The Herman & Walter Samuelson Children's Hospital at Sinai