Everything You Need To Know About Tummy Time

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If you have a new infant—or have one on the way—you’re probably hearing a lot about tummy time. Have you found yourself wondering “What is tummy time? And why is it so important?”

Before I had my first child, I didn’t know what tummy time really was. And I didn’t understand how incredibly important it actually is. There are some amazing benefits of tummy time. I’ll share a few of them here with you, as well as some great ways to incorporate it in your daily routine.

Benefits Of Tummy Time

Before you get too far into planning your tummy time activities, you may want to know more about the purpose behind tummy time.

So, what is tummy time? “Tummy time” is a term we use when we talk about having babies lie down on their fronts instead of on their backs. This practice can begin quite early, though appropriate tummy time activities will vary dramatically depending on the age of your child.

The benefits of tummy time are numerous, and include the following:

  • Physical growth and development: A primary reason to schedule in tummy time has to do with strengthening your baby’s body and developing new muscles and skills. Tummy time will strengthen the back, neck, core, and the upper body. This will prime your baby for needed skills like crawling, sitting, and cruising.
  • Mental stimulation and growth: Having your baby on their stomach helps encourage tactile exploration. Your child will be able to experience a variety of different textures and leave them with a better understanding of their world.
  • Encourage development of hand-eye coordination: Tummy time can help your baby develop a more comprehensive sense of how they interact with their environment.
  • Avoid plagiocephaly: Doctors have noticed an increase in flat head syndrome. Remaining in the same position for too long can help contribute to flat head syndrome. A lack of developed muscles can also make it difficult or uncomfortable for a baby to move himself or herself into a new position. 

When To Start Tummy Time

When you think of tummy time, you probably have a very particular image. It’s likely to be of an older infant lying on a playmat and studying a toy in their hands.

The truth is that tummy time can start much earlier than this. The kind of activities your two-week-old will engage in are different from those your two-month-old will do, of course. However, they both work to accomplish the same thing.

Tummy time can begin almost immediately, with your baby tummy to tummy on you. Your end goal is to have your child doing tummy time on the floor and to increase the amount of time as you go. In the beginning, however, any activity in arms that encourages neck and back strengthening is appropriate.

Your baby should be working on the floor for tummy time once they reach one month old. The tummy time will continue to evolve until your baby is fully mobile and old enough to crawl.

baby on tummy with toy dog

How Much Tummy Time Should Your Baby Do?

If you have a very young baby, it’s important to remember that these are new muscles they’ve never worked before. A little bit of tummy time can go a long way. The more you do tummy time, the more developed your child’s ability will become—and the longer sessions they’ll be able to do.

Plan on beginning by giving your baby 3–5 minutes of tummy time, two or even three times a day. You’ll want to sneak tummy time in when your child isn’t tired or cranky. Try to incorporate it into playtime when possible. By the time your baby is three to four months old, 20–30 minutes of tummy time should be your goal.

How To Do Tummy Time

Tummy time is pretty straight forward. You just need to provide an opportunity for your little one to get some quality time on their stomach. Here are some tips for setting up the perfect tummy time space for your child:

  • Create a comfortable space for your baby: A cushioned blanket, towel, or playmat can be a great option for tummy time. This creates a firm surface that can still be comfortable. It can also help prevent your baby from objecting to a colder surface.
  • Engage your baby and make it fun: Your baby is less likely to complain about tummy time if they feel like you’re involved. Being on the floor with them where they can see you and interact with you can help.
  • Bring interesting items: Tummy time can be hard work. Make sure to bring items your baby finds interesting. This can help distract them from the fact that they’re doing tummy time, and make it more successful. 

The age of your baby will factor into what tummy time looks like and what your goals are. Here’s what you can expect from tummy time at different ages:

  • Less than one month old: Give your baby tummy to tummy time. This is a great way to engage your baby’s muscles while fulfilling a newborn’s emotional and physical needs.
  • One month old: Your baby is working toward supporting their own head. You can help them by elevating their upper body slightly with a rolled up towel or small folded blanket.
  • Two months old: Your baby should be able to make it (happily) through several small tummy time sessions a day. They should be working through tummy time on the floor by now. You can help them by making sure they aren’t always sleeping in the same position when on their backs in their crib.
  • Three months old: Your child should be spending at least an hour on their stomach (cumulatively) every day. They should be lifting their heads between 45 and 90 degrees and able to tilt in both directions. They should be trying to place weight on their arms and pushing themselves up off the ground.
  • Four months old and older: Your child may start learning how to roll over and, eventually, crawl. Use toys to help keep them motivated and invested in the activity.

These are great, basic guidelines to successful tummy time at any age. If you’re looking for specific tummy time activities, you may want to consider using some of the following.

Fun Tummy Time Activities

Struggling to provide your baby with exciting tummy time activities? Or are you having difficulty keeping them engaged? You may want to try one of the following approaches to get your little one interested:

  • Use touch to your advantage: You’re likely a huge part of your young baby’s world. Lie or sit down next to your baby during tummy time. Rubbing their backs can provide them with your familiar touch and make tummy time bonding time as well.
  • Make it entertaining: Do you have older children? Set them up nearby to give your baby something to watch. If not, break out the blocks and build in the baby’s line of sight for another level of involvement.
  • Pampering after bath time: Don’t be afraid to sneak in tummy time activities. After bath time, you can lay your baby on their stomach on a towel for a mini massage.
  • Add toys to the routine: Toys can be a great aid when it comes to tummy time. Mirrors and interactive toys can keep your baby occupied. They can also help encourage them to begin practicing the fundamentals of crawling.
baby on tummy

Tummy Time Safety

Keeping your baby safe will always be your top priority. Tummy time is important; here’s what you can do to keep it safe and productive:

  • Tummy time is play time: It may be tempting to let your baby sleep on their stomachs. The official stance of the American Academy of Pediatrics is that babies should sleep on their backs. If your baby needs to sleep, go ahead and roll them onto their backs and try tummy time after their nap.
  • Put your baby in a play yard if necessary: Is there a lot going on in your house? Whether it’s other children or pets, you may want to consider doing tummy time in a playpen. This can help ensure your baby won’t be tripped over or stepped on.
  • Always supervise your baby during tummy time: Keeping an attentive eye on your baby can alert you to any discomfort or difficulty your baby is having. When in doubt, pick up your baby for cuddles and revisit tummy time later.

What To Do If Your Baby Doesn’t Like Tummy Time

If your baby doesn’t love tummy time, you’re not alone. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to work around a dislike of tummy time. You can rest assured your baby will get to the point where tummy time is less of a problem.

  • Provide in-arms exercises: The goal is to work up to floor activities, but there are options for keeping your baby in arms as well. Alternate hips during traditional hip carries to get your baby using different muscles. You can even cradle your baby against you facing the ground during walks for needed exercise.
  • Be the surface: If your baby just can’t get behind tummy time on the floor but loves to be against you, lie down on your back. Place your baby face down on your body and let the tummy time begin. You can also drape baby’s belly down on your lap.
  • Start slow and end on positive notes: Half a minute of positive tummy time is better than several minutes of miserable tummy time. Avoid a negative association by doing many short positive tummy times and working your way from there.
  • Avoid excessive periods of crying: Crying encourages the swallowing of excess air, which can make tummy time more uncomfortable. It can also cause uncomfortable discharge and pressure. 

Go Ahead And Soak Up The Benefits Of Tummy Time

If you haven’t started tummy time with your baby yet, there’s no reason to wait any longer. It’s a great, daily activity for your baby that helps them grow and develop properly.

Go ahead and pull out your baby’s favorite toys and prep the tummy time space. You’ll be surprised how even a reluctant baby can start to enjoy the benefits of tummy time—and how much you will enjoy watching them grow and learn.

Howard is a co-founder of Smart Parent Advice. When he isn't spending time with his wife, Kristin, or his two children, he can often be found running around on the tennis court.