Your Guide to Tummy Time

What is tummy time? After so many hours spent sleeping on their backs, babies need practice using their neck muscles. Here, learn the basics of this crucial activity, including when to start tummy time.

How to Practice Tummy Time
01 of 06

Why Tummy Time?

Since the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) began recommending that babies be put "back to sleep" more than a decade ago, the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome has dropped drastically. But back-sleeping has led to more infants developing flat spots on the back of their skull, a condition called positional plagiocephaly. What's more, always lying belly-up can delay motor development because baby gets less of a chance to work the muscles in their upper body. Lack of tummy time can not only affect how long it takes for your little one to master such basic skills as lifting their head and turning over, it may also have an impact on physical milestones, like sitting, crawling, and walking.

02 of 06

When Should Tummy Time Start?

Tummy time should start when your baby is a newborn, according to the AAP. But what is best way to get your child used to this strange, new position?

Start by placing your baby on your chest facing you or across your lap. This will help them get accustomed to the position. You can also talk softly to them, encouraging them to lift their head. Once they've mastered this position—or, at the very least, seems comfortable with the notion of being belly-down—you can move them to a tummy time mat or place them on a blanket on the floor.

One note, though: You should be mindful of when you do tummy time. Placing baby on their belly right after a feeding can put pressure on the abdomen, for example, which may cause your child to spit up. For this reason, you should try to do tummy-time activities when they're most awake and alert, such as after a diaper change or nap.

03 of 06

How Much Tummy Time?

In the beginning, newborn tummy time should consist of two or three 3-minute sessions daily. As your baby gets older and stronger, gradually increase the length of time, working up to a total of 20 minutes a day.

By about 4 months, your baby should be able to lift their chest off the floor and lean on their elbows with their head upright. They may even be able to lift their arms off the floor, arch his back, and kick their feet. As your baby stretches and pushes on the floor, they may accidentally lean to one side, fall over, and roll from their belly onto their back. Don't worry; that's normal. At 5 or 6 months, your child will begin to pivot on their belly and use their arms to reach in front of them or to the sides.

When your baby learns to make their body do new things, they will feel a sense of accomplishment. This gives them the confidence they need to try new skills.

04 of 06

What If My Baby Hates Tummy Time?

Some babies hate doing pint-size push-ups and will protest when they're placed facedown. "While on their belly, a baby has to work extra hard against gravity to keep their head up—it's strenuous," explains Henry Shapiro, M.D., medical director of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at All Children's Hospital, in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Try to keep them on the floor for three minutes but if they refuse, just do it for a minute or two. Continue increasing and encouraging his tummy time slowly. Eventually your baby will get used to being on his stomach and start to enjoy this daily routine. "Make tummy time part of regular play, not a chore," Dr. Shapiro suggests.

05 of 06

What Activities Can I Do with Baby?

The more fun you make the experience—with plenty of face-to-face eye contact and tummy-time toys—the less your baby will fight being on their belly. Try the following:

  • Recline on your back with baby on your stomach, their head facing yours, then talk to them. They will try to lift up their head to see your face.
  • Lay your little one down on a flat, clean surface, such as a blanket or playmat on the floor. If your baby squirms or cries, roll up a small receiving blanket and tuck it under their chest for extra padding.
  • Lie down on the floor with your baby and make goofy noises and expressions, or sing songs. You might feel silly, but your actions will distract your little love bug from their tough workout.
  • Place brightly colored stuffed animals around your baby on the floor. You may notice your little one will try to reach for them. You can also hold a mirror in front of your baby to capture their attention.
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Tummy Time Safety

When playing with your child in this position, make sure they are on a low, solid surface, so they don't risk rolling off of a couch or bed. Putting baby on the floor on top of a blanket is the best bet for your child's safety. Also, if you have other children or pets, make sure your littlest one is safely out of their (and harm's) way.

Never leave an infant unattended on their belly, as they could get into a position that is dangerous and suffocate. If your baby gets drowsy or falls asleep while on their tummy, switch them to their back for a nap. You should never let them sleep on their stomach because this could put him at risk of dying of SIDS.

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