As a arent, you hear all the time that it’s safer for babies to sleep on their backs rather than on their stomachs. You hear horror stories about babies suffocating because they slept on their tummies. But then you hear about tummy time, and people are saying that it’s important too.
I completely understand how confusing this all this. It seems like you’re getting mixed messages, and you don’t know who you should listen to. It took me some time to research both issues and figure out why people were saying both, and I’m going to tell you that yes, both are important.
Before you throw your coffee cup at your computer screen, take a deep breath and read on. I’m going to explain what baby tummy time is, why it is important, and how you should do it. It’s going to make sense, I promise!
Tummy time is one of the first and most important exercises your baby will perform in their first year of life. It is a certain amount of time that your baby spends on his or her stomach while they are awake. Being on their tummy helps babies learn to hold their heads up and begin many of the developmental exercises that will help them to grow and walk.
Tummy time can be done anywhere or at a dedicated Montessori inspired play space (if you have that set up already) in your home, on the floor or a firm, flat surface with supervision. You can even do tummy time when you’re out and about by placing your baby across your legs, or holding your baby in football hold.
A word of caution: Babies should always sleep on their backs for safety. Don’t ever place your baby on their tummy to sleep. Tummy time should only happen when you and baby are fully awake.
Tummy time for babies is very important for your baby’s development. There are many reasons why putting your baby on their belly is important.
Benefits for newborn tummy time include helping with learning important milestones like rolling over, sitting up, and crawling. One of the best gross motor activities for infants, it boosts your baby’s gross motor skills by engaging major muscles as well as groups of muscles that aren’t used as often.
Tummy time also helps your baby master head control as they learn to lift their head off of the floor. It helps prevent plagiocephaly , otherwise known as flat head syndrome, which babies get from lying on their backs all the time. It also helps prevent positional torticollis , which is when baby’s neck muscles get stiff and cause the head to tilt to the side.
Tummy time helps with things like:
- Strengthening baby’s back, neck, shoulders, and other core muscles
- Building a strong foundation for other major milestones like rolling, sitting, and crawling
- Developing hand-eye coordination as baby looks down at their hands and figures out what they can do
- Gaining a sense of body awareness from movement and weight shift
- Developing movement and balance in different positions
- Sensory development from the things underneath them (blankets, flooring, play gym mirror or toys, play mats, etc)
Many new parents wonder when do you start tummy time with a baby. There’s no exact rule for tummy time age, but if your baby is born full-term and has no health issues you can start as soon as you bring baby home from the hospital. At the least, start by a month old to get the best benefits in your baby’s development.
Any time you’re doing tummy time for newborns, make sure both you and baby are fully awake and that you are supervising the entire time to prevent any dangerous situations. If you have any concerns about when baby can start lying on their stomach, check with your doctor to be on the safe side.
Some parents may also wonder, when to start tummy time for preemies? No doubt, tummy time for premature babies can be a tricky situation. Your baby should be okay with a very short time, but if you’re worried about preemie tummy time, again, consult your doctor before you begin it.
How much tummy time your baby does depends on their age. When your baby is newly born don’t do more than 3-5 minutes at a time. You can do tummy time at that age around two or three times per day.
When your baby is older you can extend the tummy time sessions. Once your baby is around 3-4 months you can aim for 20-30 minutes per day, breaking it up into a few sessions, until your baby starts rolling over on their own. Once baby can roll over on their own you can let the sessions go longer as long as you’re still watching.
The best time to do tummy time is after a nap or a diaper change. Don’t attempt tummy time when your baby is hungry or sleepy or has a full diaper. Make sure you’re both awake so there aren’t any unexpected naps.
Here’s how to give your baby a wonderful tummy time session:
- Set up a safe place for your baby to do tummy time. Use a blanket or tummy time mat on the floor or a firm, flat surface. You can also lay your baby across your stomach or knees.
- Include a few of your baby’s favorite toys.
- Place your baby facedown on the mat or blanket for 3-5 minutes to start with, gradually increasing the time as your baby gets older.
- Always supervise your baby closely during tummy time.
To ensure that your baby gets the most out of tummy time and that it is a success, employ a few tactics to help your baby along. Help your baby out the first few times by lifting their head a little bit so they can learn how it feels, and gently help them swing their face from side to side.
When your baby is a little older you can help them lift up off the ground by placing your hand under their chest so they learn how to use their arms to push up off the ground.
Related: How to Make Tummy Time Fun
These exercises are helpful for teaching your baby how to lift their own head in case they turn over on their face while sleeping.
These are some different ways to do tummy time with your baby to switch it up and have a little fun and bonding time.
This is great for bonding with your baby, especially skin-to-skin when your baby first comes home. Lying flat, place your baby facedown on your chest or tummy and hold firmly so your baby doesn’t fall off. This is a great time for face-to-face contact as well.
This position also helps when baby has an upset tummy. Place one arm through baby’s legs and under the tummy, and use your other hand to support baby’s neck and head. Hold your baby close to your body so they feel secure.
Place your baby facedown across your lap and support their neck and head. This position is great for calming an upset tummy and for burping your baby.
If your baby is one of those that cries during tummy time, you may be wondering how to get your baby to like tummy time. Here are a few ideas to help your baby get used to and enjoy tummy time instead of dreading it.
- Use tummy time play – try singing songs, showing your baby pictures, rattles, mirrors, and toys. Babies are still learning and absorbing the various sounds and sensations from their environment so items like baby toys and contrasting images help to keep them engaged.
- Use a playmat with fun pictures and patterns that your baby can look at during tummy time.
- Get down to floor level with your baby and use eye contact.
- Only do tummy time when your baby is happy.
- Don’t do tummy time right after baby has eaten.
- Set up a routine so your baby starts to expect it. Try doing it right after a diaper change or bath. Try not to switch up the routine if that’s what your baby likes.
An adult bed is not a safe place for your baby to do tummy time. The blankets and mattress on a bed can pose a suffocation hazard for your baby, especially when they are too little to hold up their heads. When babies are old enough to roll over on their own there is the risk that they could roll off of a bed.
Always do tummy time on a firm, flat surface like on baby play mats. A crib mattress is fine for tummy time, though, since crib mattresses are designed to be firm enough for safe sleeping. Just make sure you are supervising and that there are no loose blankets and pillows that could pose a suffocation hazard.
If your baby suffers from gas or acid reflux, putting them on their tummy for a few minutes can help relieve the discomfort. The gentle pressure on your baby’s tummy helps to ease any pain and to move things along through the intestines.
If your baby doesn’t get tummy time a few things could happen. Your baby’s development could suffer because your baby isn’t able to learn to lift their head and turn it on their own.
Another risk is flat head syndrome, or a misshapen head. Babies who spend too much time on their backs are at a risk for misshapen heads because flat surfaces put pressure on the skull and flatten it.
Babies who don’t get enough tummy time also can have problems with weak and still neck muscles. Lack of tummy time can even affect a baby’s back.
Yes! Even if your baby doesn’t lift their head, they’re still getting benefits from tummy time, including sensory development.
When your baby is only a few weeks old they most likely won’t be able to lift their head on their own, so don’t worry. You can help your baby out by gently lifting their head a little way off the floor so they get used to the feeling and can eventually do it on their own.
Tummy time milestones differ from baby to baby, but there are a few general ones to look out for.
- Newborn-2 weeks: Baby is getting used to tummy time.
- 1 month: Baby is starting to turn their head and attempt to lift it up.
- 7 weeks: 7-week-old tummy time includes your baby starting to flex their muscles and even smiling.
- 2 months: Longer tummy time without being upset. Starting to tilt head to one side.
- 3 months: Starting to put weight on arms. Gaining head control. Spending around an hour a day in tummy time.
- 4 months: Lifting head up and centered. Pushing up on forearms and chest off the floor.
- 5 months: Beginning to push up on hands and reaching for toys.
- 6+ months: Able to reach and grab for toys. Able to turn in a circle on tummy. Rolling over. Preferring to be on their tummy.
It’s perfectly normal for your baby not to like tummy time sometimes. Babies don’t spend a lot of time on their tummies anymore, since it is safer for them to sleep on their backs, so they’re not used to it. They find the face-down experience to be strange and uncomfortable, and it is hard work for them to lift their head.
If your baby cries during tummy time, limit it to a few minutes per day until your baby gets used to it and builds up more strength. You can also use a little tummy time support by gently lifting your baby’s head until they get used to it.
If your baby falls asleep during tummy time, just turn him or her over on their back so they can safely continue to sleep.
Even though we know it’s safer for your baby to sleep on their back rather than on their stomach, you can see now that incorporating some tummy time into your baby’s day has many great benefits. Your baby will develop many skills from spending just a few minutes a day on their tummy. I’ve found that my little one was a stronger crawler and developed her motor skills faster after I gave her tummy time.
There’s no need to be afraid of tummy time. Just make sure your baby is on a flat, comfy surface and supervise constantly, and you’ll have a safe and effective tummy time.
What do you think of tummy time? Have you tried it, and how did your baby respond? Please feel free to comment below if you have any questions, comments, or concerns.