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What age should you start tummy time?

Infants have a variety of reactions to being placed face-down on the floor. Until they develop the muscles necessary to lift their heads from an awkward face-plant position, many babies hate tummy time (and squall indignantly to let you know it!). Others seem to love the view. And still, others are indifferent, cooing happily no matter which end is up.

Whatever your baby’s reaction, tummy time helps your baby develop motor skills that eventually lead to crawling. Here’s what tummy time is, how to do it and tips to encourage it if your little one prefers to remain belly-up.

With all the focus on putting the baby to sleep on her back, it’s easy to forget that tummy time is just as important. Though it’s tough to see at first, all those little wiggles and attempts at half-lifts are contributing to baby’s development in major ways, preventing flat spots from forming on the back of her head (a side effect of all that time on her back) and preparing her for down-the-road milestones like rolling over and crawling.

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What is tummy time?

Infants need to have daily tummy time. It helps with their head and neck development and helps them build strength in their head, neck, arms, and shoulder muscles.

Tummy time is when your baby is awake and placed on their belly for a short period.

You can even start tummy time the day you bring your baby home from the hospital by laying them on your chest.

Start with a few minutes a few times per day. As your baby grows, they’ll be able to stay on their stomach for a longer period of time.

Remember, your baby needs to be supervised at all times during tummy time. Only do tummy time when your baby is awake. Babies should always sleep on their backs to decrease the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Read on to learn more about the benefits of tummy time and how to make the most out of it.

Tummy time is placing your baby on his stomach to play. Practising tummy time helps babies develop the muscles necessary to lift their heads and, eventually, to sit up, crawl and walk. Remember, “back to sleep, tummy to play”: Your baby should always be awake during tummy time and under your careful watch.

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When should I start tummy time?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies begin tummy time the very day they come home from the hospital.

How long should my baby do tummy time each day?

Encourage your baby to work his way up to about 15 minutes total on his tummy every day (or two to three sessions a day lasting three to five minutes each), always under your watchful eye. As your baby gets older, you can leave him on his belly for longer stretches, since older babies need more time on their tummies to build strength.

How to do tummy time 

  • The ideal time to do tummy time is after your baby wakes up from a nap or following a diaper change.
  • Clear a small area of the floor. Place your baby on his tummy on a playmat or clean towel.
  • Surround your baby with a few favourite toys.
  • Try to keep your baby belly-down for three to five minutes, two to three times a day.
  • As your baby begins enjoying tummy time, work up to longer and more frequent sessions throughout the day.
  • Never put your baby to sleep on his stomach. Sleeping in the prone position is a significant risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

There are many different ways you can help baby practice spending time on their tummy. Tummy time doesn’t always have to mean lying down— have some fun with it and mix it up. Changing up positions, scenery, and activities are important to keeping baby engaged and interested. Plus, it’s fun for parents too! Try to get both parents involved during tummy time to maximize time and make the baby comfortable with tummy time with each parent. Here are some infant tummy time tips to get you started!

Floor Time

Setting up space in your living room or baby’s nursery for tummy time is an easy and natural way to get started. When you and baby are first experimenting, place a small, firm pillow supporting their tummy in a “superman” style position with their arms extended out in front of them. Be sure to interact a lot with the baby during this time. It’s a new experience and can feel a little bit uncomfortable at first, so making the baby feel comfortable and safe is important to having a successful tummy time practice. If you’re doing floor time, try laying down with baby eye-to-eye. It will be helpful for the baby to see your face and make them feel reassured and having fun. Our travel crib features a side access door that works perfectly for tummy time! Lay right next to the baby and watch them grow with each moment.

Tummy-to-Tummy

Another great tummy time position is the tummy-to-tummy approach. Try laying down on your back and placing baby tummy-side down on your stomach or chest. Encourage baby to look around and build neck muscle and upper body strength by moving a toy in front of their face, or having your partner move about the room. Place a mobile above them to encourage baby to look up. Tummy time functions as a mini-workout for your baby, so make sure you mix things up and are moving around plenty to help baby develop their strength and motor skills.

Lap

Lie baby across your lap with one knee higher than the other supporting baby’s chest, with one hand baby’s back to let them know you’re there. Gently rub baby’s back to soothe them during tummy time. You can even use some baby oil or natural lotion to make tummy time even better!

Tummy-Down Carry

Carrying baby upright can end up being uncomfortable for you, and baby— so practising tummy time with a tummy-down hold is a great thing for both of you! With this technique, use one hand to support the baby’s chest with your arm between the legs. Use your other hand to support baby’s head and shoulders, nestling baby close to you. This is an easy way to squeeze in some important tummy time throughout the day and on-the-go. Encourage your partner to practice this carry too so you can make sure baby is getting as much tummy time as possible!

Are you concerned about your baby developing a flat head from sleeping on his back? Try not to worry: Most flat spots round out as babies grow older. In addition to tummy time, you can also vary up your baby’s sleep direction (place him in his crib with his feet facing one direction one week and the opposite direction the next week). And avoid too much time in bouncers, swings, car seats and carriers, which put additional pressure on the back of baby’s head.

Why Do Babies Need Tummy Time?

We know, it’s not easy to make baby do an activity she’s less than thrilled about. But trust us, tummy time is worth it. Aside from offering a sweet way for the two of you to bond, there are some major benefits to tummy time:

  • Practice for other important milestones, such as rolling over, sitting upright and crawling
  • Boosts gross motor skills
  • Engages lesser-used muscle groups
  • Prevents plagiocephaly (aka flat head syndrome)
  • Helps baby master head control
  • Alleviates gas pain
  • Exposes baby to a different environment

Benefits of Tummy Time

Newborns spend a lot of time on their backs during their first moments of life— and when they’re not lying down, you’re likely carrying or swaddling your baby. To develop strength in their neck, back, and general upper body, there are many benefits of tummy time play with your little one.

Spending some time on their belly will help baby start to recognize and practice movements to get them ready to crawl, stand, and eventually walk. Prepping for these big milestones makes tummy time so important for baby’s development. Not only does tummy time help develop baby’s motor skills, but it also helps to prevent creating flat spots on their head from lying down too much. After the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) launched their “Back to Sleep Campaign” in 1994, they cut the Sudden Infant Death Rate (SIDS) rate by nearly half. While they did initiate safe sleeping practices for babies, parents did encounter an unexpected outcome with the appearance of flat spots on infants heads when too much time was spent lying down. This discovery has made tummy time an even more important activity with many benefits for the baby. Practising tummy time with the baby also introduces them to new sleeping positions when they’re ready to roll over during sleep safely.

Researchers at Michigan State University have found that babies who have practised tummy time and even practised walking motion on a baby treadmill walk about 101 days earlier than babies who don’t. Besides being an important start to baby’s motor skills development, tummy time is also a special time to connect with your little one and spend some nurturing time together.

  • Build upper body strength
  • Development of motor skills
  • Prevent the development of flat spots on the baby’s head
  • Encourage timely growth
  • Expose baby to new sights and textures
  • Let them use hand motor skills for holding, reaching, and grabbing
  • Foster a sense of independence and taste for learning
  • Spending important nurturing time with baby

Now that you know the many benefits of tummy time, it’s time to jump into the details! Let’s discuss when to start tummy time, how to do tummy time, what to do if the baby doesn’t like tummy time, and talk about some amazing tummy time activities.

Tummy Time Activities

Now that you’ve got an ultra-cozy space to spend your tummy time, it’s time to get to work! Let’s go over some fun tummy time activities you can practice with baby during their birth to the 3-month stage, 3-6 months, and six months and beyond.

Birth to 3 months of tummy time activities

Build up from 20-30 minutes (or more) during baby’s first three months to get them ready for an hour of tummy time in their third month.

  • Tummy-to-Tummy time
  • Eye-level smile
  • Try singing a lullaby to baby during your tummy-down carry

Three months of tummy time activities

By the end of their third month, the baby should be able to spend about an hour throughout the day on their belly. If you’re not here yet, be patient and keep working on it!

  • Use toys to guide the baby’s head to move around and build neck strength.
  • Use a rolled-up blanket or pillows to adjust baby’s height and encourage motor skills

Six month tummy time activities

At six months, you’ll see the baby’s strength and motor skills improve. This can make tummy time even more fun and exciting experience for both of you! Incorporating more toys and different motions will start to take place in these months.

Using your hands to support baby under their chest, guide baby up and down while on their belly, like a baby push-up! This will help them practice them gain strength and coordination in their hands and arms to support themselves for short periods. You can even practice baby push-ups in a bassinet if you’ve got a comfortable hold on baby. This can be much more comfortable for parents and a nice change from floor time.

Practice rolling using toys to encourage baby to roll over and reach for their toys. A small, soft pillow can also be placed next to the baby to support them and give them a little leverage as they start to roll.

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How Much Tummy Time

Tummy time may vary depending on your baby’s adjustment period and your schedule— but trying for 10-15 minutes per day as they start, work your way up to 20-30 minutes per day— eventually reaching an hour per day by the time baby is three months old. You and baby will feel it out together, pay attention to those tummy time milestones and see how the baby likes tummy time. Try your best to set up a regular time for tummy time if you can, and this will help baby get used to tummy time. Also, make sure to alternate the baby’s position and direction throughout playtime.

If the baby is not quite comfortable with tummy time at the start, read on for tips on how to make this transition easier and more fun for both of you!

What if a Baby Hates Tummy Time?

Despite its importance, tummy time isn’t always as easy as setting up playtime on a soft blanket and some pillows. Not every baby will enjoy spending time on their tummy— imagine if someone adjusted your position without you expecting it! But even if the baby gets fussy, it’s important to continue working on this as it’s so important in your baby’s development. If the baby starts crying, try your best to let them work through it and don’t pick them up immediately. And mamas, don’t worry if this is you, it’s normal and common for babies to need some adjustment time. Being patient and knowing that every baby is different will help you get through these challenging moments with your little one.

If you feel like you’ve run out of ideas to help the baby out during tummy time— we’re here to help! Here are a few tips to help you and baby adjust to tummy time:

Lay down with baby

The baby may be fussy because he’s nervous about being away from mom. Try getting down to baby’s eye level and making silly faces, showing them toys, or even playing a little game of peek-a-boo. Showing baby you’re there by talking and interacting with them will make the process a little easier and a lot less scary.

Practice tummy time with a pillow or blanket

The belly-supporting pillow technique we mentioned earlier is a great way to start and can be super helpful if your baby isn’t loving hanging out tummy-down. Place a soft, but firm pillow supporting the baby’s chest and tummy— or use a rolled-up blanket. If you’re using a blanket, start small and increase the size of the roll as baby gets more comfortable spending more time on their belly.

Try tummy time on the bed 

Sometimes the baby is just not comfy on the floor. You can try practising tummy time on a bed instead as long as the baby is awake and supervised. Note that with a squishier and higher surface, you’ll need to watch the baby even more carefully.

Reassure baby

Before you go to pick the baby up at the sound of their first tummy time cry, wait it out for a moment and try comforting them in other ways. Make sure they know you’re close by talking or singing to them, rubbing their back or head, and maintaining skin-to-skin contact.

Experiment with side-lying

If the baby isn’t feeling this whole inverted world view thing at first, try side-lying. This is a great alternative to tummy time and can have similar benefits. Place the baby on their side and use a blanket or rolled-up towel to support their side. Both hands should be in front of her, with her legs forward and knees slightly bent. Use a toy to catch the baby’s attention and encourage her to turn her head.

Relax

Yes, tummy time is important to achieving baby’s developmental milestones, but if they’re just not taking to tummy time, baby (and you) shouldn’t have to be miserable. If your baby is not feeling it, try your best for 30 minutes a day— alternating between carries and other tummy time positions. Work in other exercises to help build baby’s upper body strength like encouraging their neck to move around when you’re holding them or as they lie down. Use your parental intuition— if you think something’s up, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor.

Other Tummy Time Tips

Now that we’ve talked about why tummy time is important, go over some tummy time techniques, and what milestones you can expect, let’s go over some other helpful tips to make the most of tummy time!

  • Dress baby in slightly loose-fitting, comfy clothes that allow for plenty of movement.
  • Alternate which direction you lay the baby in when you place them in their crib during bedtime. This can encourage them to alternate which way they look out of the crib, helping build neck strength.
  • Pick up your baby often! Not only is holding your baby important to connecting with your child, but it also limits the time they spend laying down.
  • Always place baby on their back during sleep— only practice tummy time when the baby is awake and supervised.

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Tummy Time Takeaways

The most important thing to remember about tummy time (and parenting in general), is it’s a process. Not all babies or parents are the same, and that’s what makes this world so great. Enjoy these sweet moments with your baby and have fun celebrating each milestone! Have more tummy time tips? Share this post with your favourites!

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