Tummy Time! Child development experts have sung (and sung) its praises, and most parents and parents to-be understand that it’s important. Placing your baby tummy down on your chest, lap, or supervised on the floor is integral to every aspect of their development. Here, we’ll sing tummy time’s praises again, focusing on its role in feeding, speech, and language.
Tummy Time’s Role in Feeding & Speech
Let’s take a look at how tummy time supports your baby’s ability to manage food and form speech sounds:
It builds a stable base for eating. In order to effectively eat, digest, and eliminate food, we need to have adequate head control, the ability to maintain an upright seated position, and strong abdominal muscles. Tummy time is a workout that helps your baby develop the necessary upper body strength and postural control for early feeding skills.
It keeps them on track with gross motor milestones, which are closely related to feeding and speech. As babies move through gross motor milestones (head control, rolling over, sitting up, crawling and walking–all optimized by tummy time), their oral motor movements mimic their body movements. When your baby crawls, for instance, the side-to-side movements of their body also happen inside their mouth. Being able to move their mouth in this new way allows them to graduate from eating purees to soft foods. It also helps them shift to more complex babbling. Here’s a great article with more information about the connections between gross motor development, feeding and speech.
It develops respiratory control. Tummy time helps develop the muscles necessary for respiratory control, which allows your baby to coordinate their breathing for effective speaking and safe swallowing.
Tummy Time’s Role in Language Acquisition
When we thing of language we often thing of talking, but language is so much more than the words we speak! It encompasses three areas: Expressive language (expressing thoughts, feelings, ideas and concepts), receptive language (understanding thoughts, feelings, ideas and concepts), and pragmatic/social language (relating to others, including reading and using non-verbal cues).
So what does tummy time have to do with all that? The simple answer is: Play. Tummy time optimizes dynamic play driven by curiosity and exploration. This, especially when you’re there offering meaningful interactions, is the primary driver of language learning.
On their tummy, unlike on their back or in baby equipment, your baby has the freedom to crane their neck and move their head in a wide arc. This wide view of their surroundings allows their curiosity to thrive. They’ll be motived to look around, and as they gains strength they’ll push up, reach for things, and learn how to move their body to explore their environment.
If you get on he floor with them to label and describe the things they look at, point at or reach for, they’ll learn that words have meaning. If you interact with them around things they’re interested in, especially by responding to their vocalizations, they’ll begin to learn to express themself, understand you, and navigate back-and-forth communication.
Aside from offering opportunities for rich interaction with your baby, tummy time promotes the development of their body, sensory system, and cognitive skills–all necessary for moving on to more complex play and language learning.
We encourage you to give your baby as much tummy time as possible, and you can start from day one! Some babies are fussy at first, but don’t give up. Put them on their tummy for a few minutes at a time until they gets used to it.