Updated: Aug 28, 2022
WRITTEN BY SALLY HILLS-DAVIS, CHILDRENS OCCUPATIONAL THERAPIST AND KIRSTY BROCKLEHURST, CHILDRENS PHYSIOTHERAPIST. FOUNDERS OF THE PRACTICAL CHILD.
Do babies need tummy time pillows?
Well the short answer is no, but the long answer is maybe! Read on to find out more…
Tummy time is an important activity to develop head control, strengthen neck and back muscles and is an important precursor to later skills such as crawling.
The benefits of tummy time are well established. The successful back to sleep campaign in 1992 has been a resounding success in reducing cases of sudden infant death syndrome, however in the years following this it was noticed that babies were slower to attain developmental milestones such as rolling over, sitting up and crawling. This was found to be directly related to reduced time spent lying on their tummy and from here the concept of awake tummy time was born.
However tummy time is not easy, babies' heads are very large and heavy and their necks are weak. It is very hard to lift their heads when on their tummy and babies can often get upset.
What does a tummy time pillow do?
When babies are placed on their tummy they often tuck their legs up underneath them meaning that all their weight tips forward onto their upper body and head which makes it even harder to lift their head! This is where a tummy time pillow comes into play! Using a small roll lifts their chest, head and shoulders and moves their weight down towards their pelvis. This makes it easier for babies to work on lifting their head, building up the strength in their neck and back muscles and makes the experience far more pleasant for both babies and parents!
What to look for in a tummy time pillow:
Size: Most commercial tummy time pillows tend to be quite large. Smaller is actually better. When the pillow or roll is placed under your babies chest you still want them to be able to place their hands down on the floor so that they can begin to learn to push up through their arms to support their weight rather than ‘swimming’ with their arms up and over using their back muscles. So the key here when choosing the right tummy time pillow or roll is no higher than your babies arm length.
Shape: There are all sorts of shapes of tummy time pillows available, ideally a roll or wedge shape work best. If a wedge shape this should go down to almost nothing at the thin edge and should be no longer than the length between your babies chest and pelvis. Ideally you want this hips flat on the floor and not raised up.
Firmness: The pillow needs to be firm enough that it doesn’t collapse to nothing under your babies weight but soft enough that it is comfortable to lie on.
Material: Babies dribble.. A lot! They will dribble and maybe bring up some milk onto the tummy time pillow. Make sure it is washable! The colours and patterns of the tummy time pillow actually want to be quite boring, the pillow is not the toy and if positioned correctly they shouldn't really be able to see it. Bright colours can actually be distracting and may encourage a baby to look down at the pillow rather than lifting their head up.
Do I have to buy a specialist tummy time pillow?
No, in fact our top recommendation is to just use a rolled up blanket or towel. Roll it up into a tight sausage so that it is soft but firm. This means that it is also washable and you can adjust the height perfectly to your child. Only roll as much as you need to get the right height.
How do I use a tummy time pillow or roll with my baby?
The recommendation is that babies spend 30 minutes a day on their tummies, there is a common misconception that this needs to be done all in one go. This is not the case. Little and often is the best approach and keeps tummy time fun and reduces upset for everyone involved. Our advice is to build it into your daily routine for example at every nappy change.
It is best to always start with your baby on their back, gently roll them over onto their tummy. It may be difficult to roll over the tummy time pillow or roll so you may then need to pop the tummy time pillow or roll under their chest once they are on their tummy. Make sure you position the roll so it is under their upper chest but not under their arms so that your baby can place their hands down on the floor comfortably. Make sure your baby is keeping their bottom down with their legs out behind them. It may help to place a gentle but firm hand on their bottom to help this. Choose simple toys that your child can look at. A mirror, our baby flash cards (available here: https://blossapp.com/shop/pregnancy/baby-flashcards/ ) or the best toy of all… You! It is best to avoid toys that require your child to use their hands to start with as they need to use their hands to push up. The Taf Toys Kimmy Koala Tummy-Time Book is our choice for a great tummy time toy.
So to sum up whilst a tummy time pillow is not essential it may help make the experience a little easier in the early stages until your baby has built up enough strength to push up onto their arms and lift their head whilst on their tummy by themselves. The key with tummy time is to keep it enjoyable! So grab a towel and practise tummy time with your baby.
We would love to know if this helped you so please do leave us comments and even pictures to let us know how you get on!