All About Tummy Time

Baby practicing tummy time

Bringing a new baby into the world means not only a change to your way of life but also a whole slew of new information about what you need to do to give your baby the best start. It can be overwhelming to keep track of how long it’s been since baby last ate, how many wet and poopy diapers, all while you’re sleep-deprived, and can hardly remember to feed yourself! Now there are all sorts of new terms to keep track of – like tummy time.

What is Tummy Time?

Baby practicing tummy time

Tummy time is a supervised activity for your newborn, where you place your infant on his stomach while he’s awake. Remember, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies sleep on their backs, so don’t put your baby down for a nap on his belly in the name of tummy time.

Why is Tummy Time Important?

Tummy time is an essential exercise for infants. You might not think of laying on your belly as exercise until you consider that a newborn’s muscles are extremely feeble. After all, he just spent nine months forming and floating in liquid! By laying your infant on his belly for tummy time, you are helping him to:

  • Develop his core strength
  • Develop the neck strength required to hold up his head
  • Strengthen the muscles he needs to roll over, sit up, crawl, and eventually walk and run

Tummy time has countless other benefits, as well. Regular tummy time sessions help prevent flat spots from developing on the back of the infant’s head and introduce him to a whole new perspective, strengthening his eye muscles.

When Should I Start Tummy Time?

For full-term infants, pediatricians recommend beginning tummy time as soon as you come home from the hospital. Some pediatricians note that if your baby’s umbilical cord is still a little nubby and firmly attached, you may want to hold off until it falls off. Though, there are ways to position the baby, even if he has the world’s most stubborn umbilical cord. (Hint: pillows, like the Boppy.)

Uh Oh. I Haven’t Been Doing Tummy Time! What Can I Do?

Don’t panic! If several months have passed since you brought your bundle of joy home and you’ve only just heard about tummy time, don’t freak out. Consider this your first parenting oopsie, and correct it and move on. You certainly haven’t caused irreparable damage in your babe, and there is a simple solution. Just start scheduling some tummy time each day, and before you know it, you’ll hardly remember a time without it.

If you notice a flat spot beginning to form on the back of your baby’s noggin, mention it to the pediatrician.

How Do You Do Tummy Time?

It’s as simple as laying your infant in a prone position. You can do this on the floor, or the belly of a caretaker. There are also special pillows made to support babies in a prone position.

How Long Should I Do Tummy Time?

Baby practicing tummy time and smiling

You should work your way up to approximately fifteen minutes a day of tummy time for your newborn. You can do multiple sessions of three to five minutes each, spread throughout the day. As your baby gets older, he will likely protest less and less to tummy time, and you can work your way to an hour of playing on his belly, spread throughout the day.

Can You Do Too Much Tummy Time?

No, there’s no such thing as too much tummy time. The recommendations for tummy time are minimums, and because most babies aren’t too keen on it, the concern is usually not enough tummy time versus too much. As your baby begins to adjust and get stronger, aim for as much time on his belly that he is content to participate.

Tummy time is essential, and you want your infant on his tummy as much as he will tolerate, but always safely do tummy time. Meaning:

  • Baby is awake – the best time to do tummy time is right after a nap or bottle
  • You are keeping a watchful eye
  • Baby is on a soft but firm, flat surface and not near any hazards like staircases

You also may need to consider your pets for where your baby practices tummy time.

How Often Should I Do Tummy Time?

Tummy time is something you will do daily with your infant, but don’t panic if a day goes by and you forgot. Get in the habit of interacting with your baby as you lay on your back. Place your baby on your belly to look at you. You may find that your baby enjoys this face to face time much more than time spent on the floor, and it’s a sure way to get those vital tummy time minutes in with minimal effort.

When Can I Stop Doing Tummy Time?

Keep doing tummy time until your infant can roll over on his own. Rolling can start as early as three months, but typically by six months, babies have mastered rolling from back to belly and belly to back. Once you’ve got a roller, it might be challenging to keep your little roly-poly on his belly if he doesn’t want to be there. Conversely, he might not want to lie any other way! You can bet that sitting up and crawling aren’t far behind as your little one continues to work his muscles by rolling around and playing.

My Infant Hates Tummy Time, What Can I Do?

Besides joining the “my newborn hates tummy time” club, there’s not much to do except practice. Most infants aren’t fans of lying face down on the floor, but until they strengthen their muscles enough, that’s precisely how they will lay. The good news is that not loving the feeling of being face down on the floor is an excellent motivation for your baby to lift his head and build those muscles, so keep at it.

In the meantime, try tummy to tummy time with your little one, and enjoy some snuggles and looking into your baby’s eyes. For some added bonding and benefits, combine this tummy to tummy time with skin to skin time. This time spent on a parent’s chest counts as tummy time, but be sure to lay your baby on the ground for at least one session a day so that they can get comfortable with this exercise.

Along the same lines, if your infant is not enjoying tummy time, you can try propping him up on a firm nursing pillow or Boppy at first. He might tolerate it better, and then you can gradually practice more and more tummy time without props.

Products We Love for Tummy Time

Being a modern parent is fantastic because while it may seem like we have more rules to follow and essential activities to manage, we also have great tools available to assist us. Tummy time is no different, and here are some of our favorite tummy time products:

  1. Boppy – A Boppy is a firm, C shaped pillow used for supporting babies during feedings, propping up, and supporting during tummy time. These are versatile must-have for new parents.

How to use: Lay the Boppy on the floor, then lay your infant’s chest on the pillow. Position his arms to prop him up a bit. His legs will be in the hollow part of the C, with the pillow surrounding him. Always supervise your baby in the Boppy, whether he is in a seated position, or using it for tummy time.

2.Play Mat – Floor mats for infants are great purchases for newborns because they often have crinkly toys and high-contrast patterns to keep the baby entertained as he lays on his belly. They are much softer than the carpet or a hard floor, making it a tad more comfortable for the baby.

How to use: Lay the playmat on the floor, then lay the infant on his tummy on top of the mat.

3.Shatterproof Mirror – Babies love looking at faces – particularly their own! While your baby won’t recognize that it’s his reflection until about eighteen months, he is sure to get a kick out of staring into the eyes of another baby.

How to use: Place a blanket, Boppy, or play mat on the floor. Place your baby on his tummy on the blanket, then prop a shatterproof baby mirror in front of his face.

4.High-Contrast Books – From birth, a baby’s eyesight is awful. It could be anywhere from 20/200 to 20/400, and they can only see in black and white. For these reasons, black and white board books make great tools for developing their eyesight and giving them something to look at while doing tummy time.

How to use: Prop a board book open in front of your little one while lying on his tummy on a blanket or play mat. Be sure to switch the pages for him every few minutes – just because he can’t see well doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to see new things!

Is Tummy Time Necessary?

Undoubtedly, you’ve had skeptics coming from every angle about your newborn.

“Give that baby some cereal!”

“You hold that baby too much!”

“Tummy time? I never did tummy time with my kid, and she’s a rocket scientist now!”

While it can be frustrating, as long as you’ve found a pediatrician you trust, the only opinions that matter are yours and hers. Always default to your intuition, and the science your doctor preaches.

Trusting yourself and your doctors might come easy to some, but others might still wonder about this whole tummy time thing. Is it genuinely vital? Was tummy time a thing when I was an infant? Tummy time is a result of the AAP’s “Back to Sleep” campaign. In 1994, when the Back to Sleep campaign made parents aware that putting an infant to sleep on his back significantly lowered the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, the rate of SIDS incidents decreased by half. While incredibly beneficial and lifesaving, the Back to Sleep campaign led to some babies never lying on their bellies. Pediatricians began to notice more and more infant torticollis, where a baby’s head tilts to one side, and plagiocephaly, a flat spot on the back of a baby’s head.

While both these conditions in infants are incredibly treatable, the AAP now recommends that babies spend some of their waking hours on their tummies to prevent these conditions from occurring in the first place.

When someone questions your daily tummy time routines, saying their adult child never did tummy time and turned out fine, let them know what you now know. They likely never heard of tummy time because doctors didn’t realize the importance of spending time on the tummy until babies slept consistently on their backs. Their adult child most likely got tons of tummy time before falling asleep on her tummy, and when she woke up on her tummy.

Tummy time is crucial because it will help your infant reach appropriate milestones faster. However, the most important factor is that babies spend time in different positions throughout their waking hours to explore and increase their strength. Don’t worry if your baby cries while doing tummy time. However you handle it, some tummy time is better than none. On the flip side, crying is a normal side effect of newborn life, and he can work through a couple of minutes while he learns to love tummy time. Regardless, believe it or not, a time will come that your baby will love playing on his tummy. You might even wake up to baby sleeping on his tummy! (Which is okay, once the baby is able and puts himself there on his own.)

Parental empowerment is essential for the happiness of a family. Empower yourself with information on what is best for you and your child. Exposing your baby to tummy time can help him achieve the milestones necessary for a happy life as a toddler. While skipping tummy time won’t be why a child doesn’t get into Harvard, it certainly won’t hurt.