The Ultimate New Mom’s Guide to Tummy Time

What it is, and why you should do it.

If you’ve spent any amount of time around other parents or reading mommy forums, you’ve probably come across the term “tummy time.”

The term has really only become popular lately, and if you ask someone who raised kids in the 80s or earlier, they’ll probably have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about!

Why, might you ask? Well, during the mid-90s, the “Back to Sleep” campaign was launched, informing parents that it’s best for babies to sleep on their backs as opposed to their tummies, as a way to prevent SIDS. (source)

What is tummy time?

Tummy time, simply put, is the act of placing your baby on his or her stomach (only when awake and under adult supervision). Why might you want to do this? Well, there are actually a number of benefits.

The many benefits of tummy time.

Helping your little one practice tummy time is an awesome idea because it comes with a ton of great benefits:

  1. When they’re on their tummies, they lift their heads up, helping to strengthen those crucial neck and shoulder muscles. This comes with an added benefit: a baby with properly-developed neck and back muscles has a decreased risk of SIDS, because if they find themselves face-down, they can lift their head away from the surface  to be able to breathe properly.
  2. This time helps develop the muscles your baby will need when they start getting mobile, rolling over, crawling, sitting and scooting. The more time a baby spends on their tummy, the quicker they’ll start to crawl on their own.
  3. Tummy time helps develop motor skills. Your baby will be curious to see the world around them, and being on their tiny tummies helps them get a view of everything. Eye muscles get stronger as well. When a baby is developing, she first gains control of her head, then the shoulders, then the rest of the body. Since the first thing she’ll gain control of is the head, she’ll be very curious to look around!
  4. It’s also necessary for proper skull development. If your child is always on their back, the back of their skull is always touching a surface, which can lead to developing flat spots on the back of the head. Tummy time helps prevent this.

When you should start tummy time.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, you can start your baby on tummy time as soon as they come home from the hospital. (source)

Not all children take to tummy time as quickly as others. But there are things you can do to help encourage them to enjoy it, which we’ll get into in the next section.

How long should a tummy time session last?

When it comes to tummy time, even doing it a little bit has lasting benefits.

When starting your infant out on tummy time, aim for about 2-3 sessions a day at about 5 minutes maximum.

As an young infant, tummy time should last about 2-3 minutes at a time, maximum. As they get older, around 3 to 4 months old, 10-20 minutes of time per day should be adequate.

baby on tummy with stuffed animal

What to do if your baby HATES tummy time.

Not all infants love tummy time.

If yours is anything like my son, I could only get him to take part in it for a few minutes before it got outright cranky and upset. Now, just because your baby squawks, it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like it.

It was a struggle, and I had a lot of back-and-forth with my doctor about it. Eventually, I figured out a few tummy time tips.

  1. Use toys. Their favorite toy can make a great distraction, plus it can also give them a link to associate the time with their favorite toys. Place them just out of reach to encourage reaching!
  2. Get on the floor with them. Getting face-to-face (and making funny faces!) makes it a lot more fun and less scary, too.
  3. Get a tummy time mat. Not only do they make it comfortable, but most of them have built in toys and things to make it more fun.
  4. Distract them even more. As soon as they start to protest, blow raspberries on their tummy, make funny faces, flip them on their back and make the same noises on their backs.
  5. Encourage them to look up. Sing just above their heads, and talk to them the same way. They’ll be encouraged to try to look up at you.
  6. Just keep trying. They might just hate it at first, but as their neck and back muscles get stronger over time, they’ll start to enjoy it more!
  7. Take breaks. Sometimes it’s just not working, and its fine to have shorter sessions with quicker breaks.

Another thing you can do to get in some tummy time is to hold them on your chest.

While not the ideal way to do it, you’re getting the pressure off the back of the head, which is the main goal with tummy time. Eventually, you’ll want to get them on the floor, but this works in a pinch.

How to start tummy time.

First of all, tummy time should only be done while baby is awake, and under full supervision.

  1. To first start out, lay your baby across your lap on their tummy for a few minutes per day. As they grow and get stronger, you can start to place them on the floor.
  2. Set baby up with a firm, safe space. After they’re okay with doing it on your lap, a tummy time mat on the floor is an ideal place to graduate to.
  3. Engage your child. If your little one doesn’t seem to take to tummy time, be sure to engage her. Get down on the floor with her—sometimes being able to see your face is just what they need to become interested in moving their chin off the floor.

See the below video for great ideas on how to encourage your little one to love tummy time

Other Resources

Do you have any questions about tummy time? Any suggestions for fellow parents? Please let us know in the comments section!

2 comments
  1. Great tips! One of my favorite tricks for helping babies love tummy time is to get them tummy-down on an exercise ball, which allows you to adjust how “flat” they are and then make it easier or harder. I’ve written about how to use an exercise ball for tummy time here (if anyone’s curious about how to do it): http://mamaot.com/2014/08/11/use-therapy-ball-make-tummy-time-easier-fun-baby/ Pretty much every parent who has learned about this tricked has loved it and has said it has made a HUGE difference in their baby’s play time and their ability to tolerate tummy time while also getting stronger. Hope it helps!

    -Christie from http://mamaot.com

    1. Ooh, that’s really awesome advice! Thanks for sharing it!

      Mine are too old to try this out now, but I bet my readers will love it. :)

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