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What Is Tummy Time?

‘Tummy time’ means giving your baby time on their stomach while they’re awake and you’re there with them. 

Tummy time is essential for your Baby’s development. It helps them learn to crawl and walk. In addition, 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.

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What Is Tummy Time?

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.

Why Tummy Time Is Important

Experts recommend that babies sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). So babies spend a lot of time lying on their backs.

Tummy time gives your Baby the chance to try a new position and helps prevent them from getting a flat spot on their head from lying on their back so much.

Tummy time builds your Baby’s head, neck and upper body strength. It also helps develop the skills they’ll need to crawl, roll over, sit up and stand.

Tummy time happens when your baby lies on his tummy with weight on his forearms. Tummy time builds head, neck and upper body strength. Your Baby should do it often each day.

Start tummy time soon after birth. In the first few weeks, try tummy time for 1-2 minutes, 2-3 times a day. After that, your Baby can build up to 10-15 minutes, several times a day.

Back to sleep, tummy to play. While asleep, the Baby spends a lot of time on his back with his head in one position. This can cause flat spots on the back of his head. Tummy time helps prevent this.

tummy time

When Should I Start Tummy Time?

Tummy time should start soon after birth as part of a pleasurable daily routine. For example, you might begin with 1 to 2 minutes a few times a day.

Over time, you can gradually build up to 10-15 minutes, several times a day. For example, you might start by laying your Baby across your lap on their tummy. Then, as your Baby grows more robust, you can put them on a rug on the floor to play.

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).

Are they 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 your Baby’s sleep direction (place him in his crib with his feet facing one direction one week and the opposite direction the following week).

And avoid too much time in bouncers, swings, car seats and carriers, which put additional pressure on the back of Baby’s head.

Ways to Boost Tummy Time 

  • Get down on the floor with your Baby, face-to-face or side-by-side. Chat him up and offer up a special toy for entertainment.
  • Place an unbreakable mirror in front of your Baby so that he can see his fascinating face. Vary the position from in front of your Baby to either side.
  • Tempt your Baby with enticing toys. Spread them around your little one in a circle so he’ll be tempted to reach for them, which helps develop the different muscles necessary to sit up, crawl and walk eventually.
  • Prop him up by placing a nursing pillow (or another firm cushion) under his chest and arms if he initially protests tummy time. Then try to wean him off of using these props.
  • Place your Baby on your tummy while you lie on your back (watch out for drool!). Or raise him overhead as you lie down in a modified baby “bench press.” Don’t forget the silly noises and kisses!

What Are the Benefits of Tummy Time and Why Is it So Important?

Spending awake time belly-down offers lots of benefits for your little one. Tummy time:

  • It helps prevent flat spots from forming on the back of Baby’s head.
  • Allows your Baby to work different muscles than those he’d use on his back. By practising his push-ups, your Baby will develop the muscles in his arms, shoulders, upper back and neck that will eventually enable him to lift his head.
  • Sets the stage for motor skills like reaching, rolling over, sitting up and crawling.

What Can I Do If My Baby Hates Tummy Time?

Many babies hate tummy time at first, but most begin to tolerate and sometimes even enjoy it as they build the muscles required to lift their heads. In the meantime, make tummy timeless tortuous by:

  • They are trying several shorter stints a day. Aim for just 1 to 2 minutes at a time at first. With practice, your Baby will work up to longer belly sessions.
  • I am switching up the locations. A change in scenery is sometimes enough to keep tummy time tolerable.
  • He was massaging his feet. If your Baby enjoys it, a baby massage can encourage tummy time.
  • They are inviting an older sib to join. Your Baby might be feeling the pressure from you — plus a fresh face can make tummy time more enjoyable. Kids can get down on the floor more quickly than adults, and they have more zip in their play when your Baby needs an energy boost. Just be sure to keep a close watch on both kids.

Tummy time prepares your Baby for the exciting developmental stages to come. By three months, most babies can lift their heads 45 degrees (leaning on their forearms); a month later, they can go to 90 degrees (pushing up on their hands). 

And around nine months, many babies begin crawling (although some begin earlier and others never crawl at all — and that’s perfectly normal). So keep your eye on the prize and log that tummy time now!

Tips for Tummy Time

It’s best to choose a time when your Baby has had their nappy changed and is happy, alert and interested in their surroundings. To make tummy time more fun, you can:

  • lie alongside your Baby and chat to them, perhaps turning the pages of a picture book and talking about what you see
  • let your Baby know they have company by singing or by stroking their back or hands
  • hold a non-breakable mirror next to your Baby so that they can see their reflection
  • place safe toys near your Baby, moving them from side to side to encourage your Baby to move their head, focus their eyes and stay interested
  • do tummy time in different locations, including outdoors on a rug in warm weather
  • What if my Baby hates tummy time?
  • If your Baby becomes restless during tummy time, try changing the activity or the location. If your Baby doesn’t like being on the floor, lie down and place them on your chest while you gently play with their hands and feet. Please give them a gentle rock, sing songs or rub their back.

Some babies with reflux don’t like tummy time at first, but if you persevere, you will probably find they can tolerate it for more extended periods as they grow older and more robust.

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Five Essential Tummy Time Moves

Try these different ways to do Tummy Time with Baby!

Tummy-To-Tummy or Tummy-To-Chest

Lie down on the floor or a bed, flat or propped up on pillows. Place the Baby on your chest or tummy so you and Baby are face-to-face. Always hold firmly for safety.

Tummy Down Carry or Football Hold

Position one hand under the tummy and between the legs and carry the baby tummy down. Use the other hand to supp­­ort Baby’s head and neck. Nestle the Baby close to your body to help get the Baby accustomed to the position.

Lap Soothe

Place the baby face down across your lap. A hand on Baby’s bottom will help steady and calm them. This move can also be used to burp and soothe a baby.

Eye-Level Smile

Get down to Baby’s level to encourage eye contact. Baby loves to see your face!

Tummy Minute

Place your Baby on their tummy for one or two minutes. Start a few minutes at a time and try to work up to an hour a day in shorter intervals by the end of three months. A great way to add this into a baby’s daily routine is doing it for a minute or two after every diaper change.

Tummy Time Abilities

What Tummy Time Should Look Like Each Month

How do you know a baby is making progress during Tummy Time? Check these abilities to ensure the Baby is continuing to develop.

At 2 Weeks, the Baby Is:

  • Using Tummy-to-Tummy, Tummy Down Carry, and Lap Soothe positions
  • Working towards Tummy Time on the floor

Expert Tummy Time tip: Many parents like Tummy to Tummy for their newborns. This allows you to be face-to-face with the Baby and enjoy lots of baby cuddles!

At 1 Month, the Baby Is:

Tummy Time with a rolled towel

  • Turning head during Tummy Time
  • Attempting to lift the head – even if it’s only for a second

Expert Tummy Time tip: Get down on the floor at Baby’s eye level. Baby loves your face and voice!

At 2 Months Old, the Baby Is:

  • Spending at least one minute in Tummy Time several times a day without becoming upset
  • Doing the majority of Tummy Time exercises on the floor.
  • They are possibly tilting their head to one side.
  • Watch to ensure they alternate tilting to both directions instead of always favouring one side, which may be a possible sign of positional torticollis.

Expert Tummy Time tip: Face babies in different directions in their crib each night to help develop neck muscles by turning in another order to look at you each morning.

At 3 Months, the Baby Is:

  • Beginning to put weight on arms, with elbows behind their shoulders at a 45-degree angle
  • Gaining head control and can lift head between 45 to 90 degrees, without tilting head to either side
  • Spending a total of 1 hour each day in Tummy Time
  • Starting to visually track toys or rattles you move around during Tummy Time

Expert Tummy Time tip: Place baby tummy down on an exercise ball, holding their sides for support. Slowly move the ball toward and away from you, allowing the Baby to lift and carry its head more easily.

At 4 Months, the Baby Is:

  • Lifting head 90 degrees and keeping their head centred
  • They were pushing up on forearms and bringing the chest off the floor. Elbows will be under their shoulders at a 90-degree angle or in front of their shoulders.
  • Lifting head and moving neck to track toys, voices, and faces during Tummy Time

Expert Tummy Time tip: Babies love faces—even their own! Use mirrors during Tummy Time to help keep them engaged and having fun.

At 5 Months, the Baby Is:

  • Beginning to push up on hands with straight elbows
  • Starting to move hands forward to reach for toys that are placed nearby

Expert Tummy Time tip: Do baby push-ups. Place hands under Baby’s chest and tummy, and use gentle lifting cues to get Baby to push up on hands for brief periods.

At 6+ Months, the Baby Is:

  • Self-directing Tummy Time
  • Reaching and grabbing toys of different sizes while on tummy
  • Able to pivot in a circle while on stomach
  • Rolling from back to tummy and tummy to back
  • Starting to prefer being on their stomach. Being on their tummy allows them to play, move, and explore more easily.

Expert Tummy Time tip: Encourage Baby to practice rolling and moving while on their tummy. Use toys to keep them motivated!

How Tummy Time Helps Baby’s Development

Tummy Time helps a baby’s motor and sensory development. Tummy Time is crucial for healthy motor, sensory and visual development.

Motor

  • Strengthens Baby’s back, neck, shoulders, and core muscles.
  • Build a foundation for the Baby to meet motor milestones, including rolling, sitting, crawling, and more.

Sensory

  • Feeling different textures (blankets, carpets, etc.) on their arms, hands, and cheeks can help a baby’s sense of touch (tactile sense).
  • As babies move and their weight shifts, they gain an understanding of body awareness (proprioception).
  • Positioning babies differently helps develop their movement and balance (vestibular sense).

Vision

  • Helps develop hand-eye coordination. By looking down at their hands, Baby sees how they move and what they can do.

Keep an Eye on How It’s Going

If your Baby becomes sleepy during tummy time, put them on their back to sleep in their crib. As your Baby gains more control of their head and arms, give them a ball to play with, rolling it back and forth from you to them. 

As they start to move around more, clear away any objects that might be dangerous, and introduce new toys and games.

An adult should always be there during tummy time to make sure the Baby is safe.

Making Tummy Time Interesting, Fun and Safe

Let your Baby know you’re there by talking and singing, stroking his back or tickling his hands.

If your Baby doesn’t like tummy time on the floor, try tummy time on a rolled-up towel, your lap or a large ball.

Supervise Baby during tummy time. As he gets stronger and starts moving more, clear away dangerous things.

Remember, Every bit of Tummy Time makes a difference! Don’t get discouraged. 

If you have done plenty of Tummy Time with the Baby but are concerned about not meeting their milestones, bring your concerns to Baby’s pediatrician or healthcare provider.

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