Tummy time is an expected part of your daily routine when you are caring for a newborn. It is not always pleasant and can be easy to forget.
The good news is that there are numerous ways to replicate the way that your babies are challenged when they spend time on their tummies.
Babywearing is likely to already be part of your routine. But did you know that time spending time in a baby carrier seat can challenge your baby’s muscles in similar ways to tummy time?
In this post, we will be comparing the key outcomes that you can expect from regular tummy time and looking at whether this can be replicated through the use of baby carriers.
Tummy Time Can Be Hard!
It sounds easy in theory, but the reality is that daily tummy time can hard work! Not all babies enjoy the time spent lying on their belly, and an unhappy baby can make your day suck very quickly.
The National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD) recommends 2-3 sessions of this per day. A daunting task for new mothers if it is an unpleasant experience.
An unavoidable consideration is that prescribed tummy time has been necessary to offset the potential side effects of the updated recommendation to have babies sleep on their backs (also an NICHD initiative).
This advice has played an important part in the reduction in SIDS deaths over the previous 20 years. So you know you have to do this, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
This is why viable alternatives to tummy time are so important!
Why Does Babywearing Count as Tummy Time?
Babywearing counts as tummy time because it challenges your baby’s muscles and provides relief to parts of their body in much the same way as spending time on their tummies.
In this section, we will look at the expected outcomes that tummy time will deliver and how you can achieve this through regular carrier use.
We first need to define the key benefits of tummy time as determined in research conducted by the NICHD:
- Prevents flat spots developing on the back of your baby’s head (plagiocephaly)
- Strengthens neck and shoulder muscles allowing them to progress to crawling and walking.
- Improves gross motor skills and use of muscles.
There are also secondary considerations that can help minimize other common difficulties that parents can encounter with infants:
- Engages lesser-used muscle groups and builds overall strength.
- Minimizes gas pain and risk of reflux.
- Exposes baby to a different environment
Let’s look at each of these outcomes in detail and the parallels that tummy time shares with babywearing in delivering these benefits.
1. Development of Head Shape
Baby flat head syndrome, or plagiocephaly, is when a flat spot develops on the back of the head.
This is caused by a baby spending too much time on their back.
Tummy time is intended to provide relief to the back of the head and assist in head shape maintenance.
When your child is in a baby carrier there is no pressure on the back of the head at all. They will usually lean into your chest area with the cheeks taking the lead.
2. Neck and Shoulder Muscle Development
When a baby lays on their tummy they have to activate muscles in their neck, shoulders, and core just to be able to look up.
Regular practice of these natural movements accelerates the strengthening of these muscles and is a critical part of early development.
If we compare this to how infants interact with a parent when in a wrap or sling, they also have to move and support their neck in a similar fashion.
Even activities like breastfeeding, or napping, can provide variety in neck movement.
Their arms will also have freedom of movement depending on the type of carrier used and how enclosed the space is.
There will be less gravity to move against when sitting upright vs laying on their tummy, but it could be a useful middle ground to build up that strength with less stress on your newborn.
3. Muscle Use and Motor Skill Development
You are in complete control over what your child has access to whether they are on their tummy or in a carrier.
You can give them a toy to chew on, or just let them play with whatever is within reach.
The straps of the carrier, your buttons, or the drool cloth can all seem just as interesting for children and will deliver much of the same benefit.
4. Build Overall Strength
Unrestricted movement on the stomach will help develop core strength as they try to crawl and move around when facing downwards.
Again, you lose the opposing force of gravity when upright in a carrier. However, this will still strengthen your baby’s spine and also help develop a stronger sense of balance.
5. Gas Pain Relief
While tummy time can help a baby relieve gas, the vertical position while babywearing also aids the digestive system, resulting in a less gassy baby.
Sitting up in carrier seats allows gravity to do the work in keeping your milk in your baby’s tummy and can also improve their general level of comfort after feeding.
6. Exposure to Various Stimuli
This is one point where babywearing adds a lot of value. When lying face down the view is limited and uninspiring for a curious baby.
In a carrier, a baby can look around as much as they like!
You are also likely to be carrying them outside of the home environment where the scenery will be constantly changing.
This can also be overwhelming but your baby always has the option to nestle into the chest and take a break from their surroundings.
What If I Don’t Do Tummy Time At All?
If you decide to substitute tummy time for babywearing time then your baby can develop at a sufficient rate. However, variety in movement, stimulation, and positions can only be positive.
You may find that your baby will get sufficient tummy time without you even thinking about it.
You will want to play with them, watch them try and crawl, and eventually stand up and walk.
All this can form part of playful interactions with your child and not a formalized routine.
How Soon Can I Start Babywearing?
You can start babywearing as soon as your child is born if you choose a baby carrier that is supportive enough for a newborn.
Baby wraps, ring slings, and some soft structured carriers (usually with an infant insert) provide the support required for a new baby.
A newborn is fragile and you may be hesitant to start babywearing this early. So be sure to check the manufacturer’s guidelines prior to use.
In most cases, carrying your baby in a wrap, sling, or carrier is way more fun than spending time on the floor. And a happier baby means a happier mom and dad!
So if tummy time ever gets too hard it is great to know that you have a viable alternative to help avoid plagiocephaly and other associated effects of laying an infant on their back to sleep.
You will experience all of the amazing benefits of babywearing at the same time while spending more quality time with your baby, and being free to explore surroundings outside of the home.