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Become a Pro at Tummy Time!

Updated: Jan 19, 2021

What is it?

Tummy time is when you place babies on their stomach, with careful supervision, to play or look at various things. It is one of many important activities you can incorporate in your daily routine to encourage bonding and assist in meeting your baby’s developmental milestones.

Why should you do it?

Tummy time has numerous benefits. First, it is a crucial activity to do with your baby to help strengthen their neck, shoulders, back, and core muscles. These muscles are important for motor activities like sitting up, rolling, crawling, and eventually walking. It can also help babies with sensory development and balance. When you place babies on a variety of hard surfaces (like carpet, blanket on the floor, etc), they feel the different textures on their skin, which helps develop their sense of touch. They start to learn about their body and develop awareness as they move their weight while strengthening their muscles. Looking down at their adorable little fingers also helps coordinate their hand and eye coordination.

Tummy time can also help prevent flat spots (positional plagiocephaly) from forming on your baby’s head. According to American Academy of Pediatrics, it is highly recommended to place your baby on their back to sleep. This is the safest position to sleep, but prolonged time of laying with their head in the same position can lead to the development of flat spots. Tummy time helps your baby play and learn in different positions with their head off a hard surface.

When do you start?

Tummy time is something you can start within the first few days after birth. I know, you just had a baby and are likely living your life in 2-3 hour increments! Between feeds, pumping, washing bottles, trying to keep your house in order, and actually recovering from having a baby, it can be stressful. Some parents choose to wait until the baby’s umbilical cord falls off (around 7-10 days of life), because it can be uncomfortable to lie on as well as slightly increase the risk of infection of the umbilicus. It is okay to wait, but the earlier you start, the better.

How long should you do it?

It is best to incorporate tummy time for a few minutes at a time throughout the day. You could try doing it after each diaper change, after waking up from a nap, before bath time, or anytime your baby is happy. Try to avoid tummy time right after eating- it may make them spit up. By 3 months of age, your baby should be able to tolerate upwards to an hour of tummy time per day. As your baby gets older and likely enjoys it more, you can increase the tummy time. The longer, the better!

Always do tummy time when your baby is awake and alert. If you start to do tummy time and your baby shows sleepy cues or starts to fall asleep, remove them from their stomach immediately and place them on their back to sleep. Never leave your baby unattended during tummy time.

Different methods/positions:

If you have already had a baby, you may have already started tummy time without even knowing it!

  • Belly to belly is one way to practice tummy time, when you are in a chair or couch, lay your baby (belly side down) against your torso. In this position, your baby can look up at you, which might encourage them to use those head and neck muscles more.

  • You could try the football hold, where you securely hold your baby horizontally against your forearm.

  • The most common method - lay a soft blanket on a firm surface, like a clean floor, and lay them on their stomach.

  • You could also lay them face down across your lap. Some babies love to be burped in this position as well. They might feel better with your hand on their bottom to help secure them.

  • Once they are a few months, some babies love a water mat, like this one. This helps give them something to look at, work on their balance, build their hand eye coordination, and assists in their development of sense of touch.

As your baby ages:

As your baby grows, so does their ability to adapt to different skills during tummy time.

  • Around 1 month of age, it’s a good idea to place a rolled-up blanket under their chest and upper arms to help lift them up. Babies can turn their head side to side and may even attempt to lift their head for a brief moment.

  • By 2 months of age, they should be able to tolerate 1-2 minutes of tummy time several times a day without getting upset. Sometimes babies have a favorite side and don’t like to turn their head to both sides. This can be known as torticollis. If you notice this, try talking or placing items on their least favorite side to encourage more movement/stretching. Also, make your pediatrician aware. There are various stretching methods and exercises to help with torticollis.

  • Around 3 months of age babies start to tuck their elbows back and put more weight on their arms. This is when tummy time can become more interactive with toys! They should be able to tolerate up to an hour of tummy time (within multiple sessions) by this age.

  • At 4 months, they start to do half of a baby push up, by lifting themselves off the floor with their forearms! They usually have great head control by this point and can lift their head straight up at 90 degrees.

  • Around 5 months they start to push up onto their hands and play more with toys.

  • At 6 months they start to roll from their back to their stomach or stomach to back and can pivot in a circle on their belly. Soon you will have your baby break dancing!

What if my baby hates it?

Some babies simply hate tummy time. They cry, fuss, or scream the minute you put them down. It is such a vital activity to do with them, so it is something they will have to learn to like. Babies tend to tolerate tummy time more when you make it fun for them. You can lie next to them, talk to them, or lay a toy within arm’s reach. You could also put a book in front of them and turn it into story time. Babies love looking at themselves, so propping a non-breakable mirror in front of them encourages them to look up and gives them a distraction. It is best to practice tummy time when they are happy and well rested.

Babies love music too. When you start tummy time, play your favorite song to help encourage the 3-5 minute interval without having to actually time it. Tummy time could turn into your time to jam while your baby gets a mini workout. By making tummy time fun, it can be an enjoyable activity for both you and your baby. Remember, never leave your baby alone during tummy time.

How have you made tummy time fun? Let us know in the comments below!

Kayla Loschky, RN, BSN

Special thanks to our sources:

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