In addition to feeding, sleep, and cuddles, babies need one more very important activity that is often overlooked. That’s tummy time.
Tummy time isn’t just about play, though it is a great time for play. Tummy time helps babies develop the muscles they need to meet motor milestones, like rolling and crawling. It’s a great workout, and like going to the gym it is difficult, so sometimes babies don’t like it. It strengthens the muscles in a baby’s neck, chest, abdomen, and back.
One additional benefit of tummy time for newborns is that it helps prevent a flat spot from developing on the back of the head. This can happen if babies are almost always lying on their backs or in reclined seats when awake. Too much time resting the back of the head against a reclined seat (bouncy, swing, car seat, etc.) can also contribute to the flattening of the back of the head (plagiocephaly).
The benefits of tummy time for babies increase as babies get older and can tolerate tummy time for longer periods. That’s why you should gradually increase tummy time as your newborn grows.
How Much Tummy Time Does My Baby Need to Get the Benefits of Tummy Time?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you start with two to three tummy time sessions a day. You should start right away, ideally the day or day after you take your baby home from the hospital.
When your baby is a newborn, you should try to keep your baby in tummy time for a few minutes per session. But if your baby starts crying after a short period of time, don’t force it. You can try again later.
The best time to do tummy time is when your baby is alert and not hungry. However, you should wait about 20 minutes after a feed because otherwise, your baby might spit up.
As your baby grows, they will enjoy tummy time for longer periods at each session. By three months, your baby should get about one hour of tummy time a day to get them ready to roll, play with their feet, and crawl. You can spread this hour out over sessions throughout the day.
When your baby is crawling, they don’t need tummy time. The movement is enough to keep those neck, shoulder, and back muscles strong.
What Do I Need to Know About Safety During Tummy Time?
You should always supervise your baby during tummy time. This is because they may need your help to get out of an unsafe position. They may not yet have enough strength to move their head to the side.
If your baby falls asleep during tummy time, you should pick them up and put them in their crib, on their back. Babies should always sleep on their backs until they are masters at rolling over and they choose to roll over and sleep on their tummy.
Keep in mind that your baby might shimmy and roll over before you even realize they’re able to do so. For this reason, you should put your baby down on the floor on a mat or blanket that doesn’t bunch up easily.
How Can I Help My Baby Enjoy Tummy Time?
There are many ways you can make tummy time fun so that your baby will want to get in their workout.
Try to aim for a more sensory tummy time experience. You can place your baby on a play mat or blanket with lots of visual interest — newborns especially love contrasts. Babies also love touching and squeezing objects in different textures and shapes. Offer rattles or toys with different colors and textures. Babies love to see themselves, so consider adding in a baby-safe plastic mirror.
If your baby doesn’t love tummy time on the floor, they can get the benefits of tummy time on you! Simply lie flat on your back, or recline back on pillows, and place your baby on top of you, on their belly. There are many other ways, too — on your chest, over your lap, carried with their chest on your arm and their legs straddling your arm.
You baby will love marveling at your face. Try making funny noises or singing to make their belly time experience even more interesting. They may not like tummy time in the beginning because it is hard work, but the more tummy time you provide, the more they will get used to it and enjoy it more. Remember, tummy time is what makes your baby strong.