What Is Tummy Time?
Tummy time is laying babies on their stomachs for brief periods while they're awake. It's an important way to help babies strengthen their neck and shoulder muscles and improve motor skills.
Be sure to stay with your baby and watch closely during tummy time.
What Can Tummy Time Help With?
Tummy time is good for:
- Newborns and infants 1–3 months old who are just developing neck control. Tummy time helps develop the muscles they'll need to roll over, sit up, crawl, and walk. Always stay with your baby during tummy time.
- Older babies, 4–7 months old. They should still spend some supervised time on their bellies, even if they can roll over and sit with some help. Tummy time helps them practice lifting their head and chest further by straightening their arms. This strengthens arm, chest, and back muscles.
- Newborns who have a neck condition called torticollis (tor-ti-KOLL-iss). Tight neck muscles keep the baby from turning their head. Tummy time encourages babies to look around, and along with exercises your doctor will show you, can help your baby's neck muscles relax.
- Babies with flat head syndrome (positional plagiocephaly). This happens when babies spend too much time on their backs in the first few months of life. This can cause a flat spot, either on one side or the back of the head.
How Do I Do Tummy Time?
Start newborns on tummy time by placing them belly-down on your chest or across your lap for a few minutes at a time, two or three times a day. While lying on their belly, they can practice lifting their head and strengthening the neck and shoulder muscles. As your baby gets used to it, you can go for a little longer.
- Older Babies
Place a blanket down in a clear area on the floor. Place your baby on their stomach on the blanket for 3–5 minutes to start, several times each day. Your baby may get fussy and frustrated in this position. Keep the first sessions of tummy time brief and gradually lengthen them. It's also a good idea to do tummy time when your baby is fed, changed, and happy.
As your baby gets used to it, place your little one belly-down more often or for longer periods of time. Experts recommend that babies work up to about 1 hour of tummy time a day by the time they're 3 months old.
Make some noises or shake a rattle to get your child to look up and push up. Place a favorite toy in front of your baby to encourage reaching and forward movement.
- Babies With Torticollis or a Flat Spot
This exercise is good for babies with torticollis and/or a flat spot, and can help treat both problems:
Lay your baby on your lap for tummy time. Position your baby with their head turned away from you. Then, talk or sing to your baby. Encourage your little one to turn and face you. Do this exercise for 10–15 minutes.
What Else Should I Know?
- Always stay with your baby during tummy time.
- Always place babies on their backs (never on their bellies) to sleep to help prevent SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
- Do tummy time on a low, safe surface. Don't put your baby on a sofa or bed, where they could roll off or suffocate on pillows or a soft surface.
If your baby doesn't seem to enjoy tummy time, add some variety. Sing songs, keep colorful toys nearby, get down on the floor and eye-to-eye with your baby, and have others join you. Don't give up! Tummy time is important, and some babies just need a little extra time to get used to it.
Here are 10 tips for parents to help baby with tummy time.
- You can start tummy time right away.
Yes, tummy time can begin as soon as you bring baby home from the hospital. As long as your baby is full-term and has no significant health issues, you're good to go. Baby's first tummy times should be 3 to 5 minutes long, and they should have tummy time 2 to 3 times a day. (As they get older, tummy time should increase---more on that below.)
- Remember: Back to sleep, tummy to play.
Tummy time is only meant for babies who are fully awake, and who are closely supervised. Tummy time is playtime. It is not safe for baby to sleep on their tummy.
Babies should always sleep on their backs. Unsafe sleeping on the stomach increases baby's risk for sudden infant death syndrome.
Back to sleep, tummy to play.
To keep baby safe during tummy time, watch them carefully and closely the whole time. If baby starts to fall asleep during tummy time, immediately flip them onto their back for safety. Make sure you're awake and alert during tummy time, too, so you can quickly flip baby over into their back if they start to doze off.
3.Time tummy time correctly.
After baby's nap, after their bath, and after you change their diaper, are three great times to do tummy time. Baby is usually awake and ready to play at these moments.
- Make tummy time comfortable.
Baby should do tummy time on a soft, flat surface. It could be the floor, but you could also do tummy time outside for a stimulating change of scenery. Place baby on a blanket, a clean towel, or a special tummy time mat. A colorful blanket, towel or mat (such as a water mat or activity mat) might also keep baby stimulated.
- Make tummy time fun with toys
Place baby's favorite toys nearby---after all, this is meant to be a fun playtime. Shaking a stuffed animal or rattle near baby's face can help keep them engaged in tummy time, long enough to lift their head or push up with their arms.
You could also hold a baby-safe mirror in front of their face, to encourage them to look up at their reflection. Place the mirror on different sides of your baby to encourage even more movement.
To further encourage muscle-building and development, try placing some toys just out of reach. That way, baby has to lift their head to spot the toys, then reach out to grab them.
As baby gets older, place toys even further away to help them work up to crawling. You could designate these toys just for tummy time, so they're even more engaging.
- Interact with baby to make tummy time more enjoyable.
Get down on the floor and position your face at baby's eye level, to encourage eye contact. Even if baby doesn't lift their head for a toy, they'll probably be motivated to do so to interact with you! Here are some ways to interact with baby:
- Talk to them
- Sing to them
- Make faces
- Read to them with the book's pictures at eye level
- Move their hands around
- Offer them objects with different shapes and textures to feel
- Try "tummy-to-tummy" time or "tummy-to-chest" time.
You don't always have to do tummy time on the floor. You can also lie down on your back and place baby on your stomach or chest, so the two of you are face-to-face. Baby will be motivated to look at you, and you'll both enjoy the closeness!
- Know how to react if baby doesn't enjoy tummy time.
Baby might not enjoy tummy time at first. They might cry or scream after only one minute of tummy time, but don't worry. Getting them used to the tummy time position is key, because most babies start to enjoy tummy time once they've built up the strength to lift their head.
Try very short sessions of about a minute or two apiece, spaced out throughout the day. As your baby gets used to being on their stomach, increase the amount of time they spend on their tummy.
Changing the location or surroundings, massaging baby's feet, or inviting an energetic older sibling to join tummy time might also switch things up enough to engage baby in tummy time.
And if all else fails, give baby a break from tummy time, then try again after a few days.
- Try some "side time" if baby really can't get used to tummy time.
If baby consistently cries after a short time on their tummy, you may want to try the alternative side-lying position.
- Just like with tummy time, make sure baby is awake and alert.
- Place baby on a blanket.
- Lay them on their side.
- Prop baby's back up with a rolled-up towel.
- If needed, use a pillow or rolled-up hand towel to support their head.
- Bring baby's arms in front of them.
- Turn baby onto the other side after 10-15 minutes.
- Try tummy time again after a few days and see if baby takes to it more smoothly.
- Tummy time should get longer as baby gets older.
As baby gets older and starts to enjoy tummy time more, they'll need more and more time on their tummy to keep building up key muscle strength. So, you'll need to gradually increase the number and length of daily tummy time sessions. There's no exact rule for this because every baby is different. Just watch how long baby tolerates tummy time and try to add more time in small increments.
By 3 or 4 months of age, baby should spend half an hour to an hour per day on their tummy, divided into various tummy times throughout the day. When baby gets closer to crawling, they might even enjoy single tummy time sessions that last for a half-hour to an hour!
Once baby is crawling consistently (at approximately 8-9 months of age), they won't need tummy time, because the movements of crawling build muscles in the same way that tummy time did.