Before your baby can sit up, crawl, or walk, they need to master the art of tummy time. It may seem so simple: just plop them down on their tummy and let them explore! For little ones who spend the majority of their time on their backs, tummy time can actually be quite a challenge.
There’s no way to skip it, though – tummy time is an important milestone in your baby’s development. Here’s everything you need to know about this crucial part of your baby’s growth, plus how to support them through the process.
- Tummy time is a critical developmental milestone in an infant’s life.
- Keep baby tummy time sessions safe, short, and positive.
- Practicing tummy time is generally safe, but parents should still be vigilant about possible risks.
What Is Tummy Time?
Tummy time is exactly what it sounds like. It’s when your baby is on their stomach, supported by their forearms and hands. It may not look like a big deal, but there’s actually a lot going on every time your little one is in this position.
The Benefits of Tummy Time for Babies
Babies spend the first few months of their lives mostly on their backs. This is for good reason – it’s the safest position for them to sleep in and it protects their developing spine. However, it should be temporary.
Too much time on their back can lead to problems down the road, such as plagiocephaly (flat head syndrome) or torticollis (a condition that causes the neck muscles to become tight and twisted).
Tummy time sessions are so important because it ushers in the next stage of your baby’s development. Spending time on their tummy helps them:
Tummy time develops the muscles in their neck, back, and trunk
Tummy time forces your baby to use muscles they don’t normally use when lying on their back. This includes the muscles in their neck, back, and trunk – all of which they’ll need to develop gross motor skills.
For instance, when your baby is on their stomach, they have to lift their head to see what’s around them. This helps strengthen their neck and shoulder muscles. Meanwhile, pushing up on their forearms strengthens the muscles in their trunk.
All of this strength-building is essential for your baby to eventually sit up, crawl, and walk.
Tummy time helps prevent Flat Head Syndrome
An infant’s skull and bones are still naturally soft and pliable. This gives them the ability to squeeze through the birth canal during delivery.
However, it also means their head can easily become misshapen if they spend too much time lying on their backs. Specifically, the weight of their head can cause their skull to develop flat spots.
Spending time on their stomach gives your baby’s head a chance to rest in a different position. Aside from preventing flat head syndrome, tummy time also helps your baby’s skull develop evenly.
It’s worth noting that you don’t need to worry too much about flat head syndrome. In most cases, it’s not serious and can be easily fixed with a simple corrective helmet.
Promote hand-eye coordination
Babies are born with a natural reflex to use their hands to support themselves. When they’re on their backs, they’ll often swat at toys or try to grab anything within reach. Tummy time gives them a chance to practice this reflex.
As your baby starts lifting their head during tummy time, they’ll also start to develop hand-eye coordination. They’ll learn how to track objects with their eyes and eventually reach for them with their hands.
Strengthen their arms and legs
An infant’s muscles are still very weak. The act of pushing down on their forearms, kicking their legs, and wiggling around during tummy time helps them develop muscle tone and strength.
Alleviates gas pain and promotes digestion
Babies often cry and arch their backs when they’re experiencing gas pain. This is because lying on their backs puts pressure on their stomach, which can make the pain worse.
Spending time on their stomach gives your baby some relief. The position also helps move food through their digestive system and prevents constipation.
Related Read: Infant Skills Development: What Milestones Should Parents Watch Out For
How Old Should Babies Start Tummy Time?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, newborn tummy time can start as early as the first day home from the hospital.
There’s no reason to wait as long as your newborn baby is full-term, healthy, and without any complications. In fact, the sooner you start, the better.
How Long Should Tummy Time Last?
While you can start ASAP, you don’t want to overdo it. Tummy time should be short and sweet at first – about two to three minutes per session.
You can gradually increase the length of each session as your baby gets stronger and more comfortable. Eventually, you should aim for about 20 to 30 minutes of tummy time per day.
My Baby Hates Tummy Time: What’s Happening?
It may look like it, but babies don’t actually hate tummy time. The truth is, it can be pretty uncomfortable and frustrating for them.
Think about it from their perspective: They’re used to being able to see the world around them. They’re used to being able to move freely. When you put them on their stomach, all of that changes.
They can’t see what’s going on, and they can’t move the way they want to. It’s no wonder they often cry and fuss the first few times you try it.
The key is to be patient and understand that your baby is just getting used to this new position. They’ll eventually get the hang of it and even start to enjoy it.
Tips for Making Tummy Time More Enjoyable
It’s hard to see your baby cry and not want to just pick them up and hold them. However, it’s important to give them the time they need to get used to this new position.
Here are a few tips to make the process more bearable for both of you:
Put your baby belly down as early as you can.
Turning your baby onto their stomach when they’re only a few days old may seem scary because they look so vulnerable. In fact, it’s actually the best time to start.
They’re still small and relatively easy to position, and they’re not yet mobile, so they won’t be able to wiggle away. Just make sure to support their head and neck.
Keep tummy time sessions short.
Remember, you’re just trying to get your baby used to the position. They don’t have to master it right away. A minute or two is usually all it takes at first. You can gradually increase the length of each session as they get stronger and more comfortable.
This also keeps tummy time a positive experience. If you force them to stay on their stomach for too long, they’ll start to associate tummy time with crying and frustration.
Distract them with toys during tummy time.
If your baby hates tummy time, try placing a toy in front of them to give them something to focus on.
Choose one that’s bright, colorful, and makes a lot of fun noises. This will help keep their attention and make tummy time more enjoyable. You can also try holding the toy just out of their reach so they have to lift their head to see it.
Get down on their level.
Babies are very visual creatures. When you’re down on the floor with them, they can see your face and feel like you’re right there with them. This will help them feel more comfortable and secure.
Try different tummy time positions.
There’s no one right way to do tummy time. You can try different positions to see what works best for your baby. For example, you can lay them on your chest so they can feel your heartbeat, go tummy to tummy, or prop them up on your knees so they’re in a more upright position.
You can also try placing a pillow under their chest to help them lift their head. Just make sure they’re always supervised so they don’t roll off.
Give your baby a massage during tummy time.
While your baby is on their stomach, try giving them a gentle massage. This will help them relax and may even make them sleepy. Use slow, circular motions with your hands and focus on their back, legs, and feet.
Schedule tummy time after naps and diaper changes.
Babies are usually more alert and happy after they’ve had a nap or a diaper change. This makes tummy time the perfect time to try new positions or play with new toys.
Use a mirror.
Again, take advantage of your baby’s visual nature. Placing a mirror in front of them can help keep their attention and make tummy time more exciting. They may not be able to recognize themselves yet, but they’ll be fascinated by the movement and sound of their own voice.
Make it a family affair.
Most babies love being the center of attention. They enjoy seeing the people around them and hearing their voices. It’s actually why babies laugh out loud more often when they’re with others.
Inviting siblings or other family members to join in on tummy time turns it into a fun activity for everyone. Try playing peek-a-boo or singing songs. Ask everyone to make silly faces. Not only will your baby get the benefits of tummy time, but they’ll also get some quality family time.
Tummy Time Tips for Your Baby’s Safety
Now that you know all there is to know about tummy time, it’s important to keep a few safety tips in mind. After all, you want to make sure your baby is comfortable and safe while they’re exploring their new world:
Always supervise your baby during tummy time.
Never leave them unattended, even for a second. Babies have a way of rolling over or scooting off before you know it.
Make sure their head and neck are supported.
An infant’s head is heavy, which can cause tight neck muscles and other issues during tummy time. Support baby’s head with a pillow or rolled-up towel to prop up their head if necessary.
Don’t put them on their stomach right after a feeding.
Wait at least 30 minutes to an hour after they eat to give their tummy time. This gives their food time to digest so they don’t get an upset stomach.
Use a firm, flat surface for tummy time.
Make sure the surface is clean and free of any pillow, blankets, or toys that could obstruct their breathing. The material should be firm enough that it doesn’t sink when your baby is on it, but not so hard that it’s uncomfortable.
It should also be textured enough that it doesn’t slip, but not so rough that it irritates their skin.
Stop if your baby is getting frustrated or overstimulated.
Tummy time is meant to be a fun and positive experience for your baby. Keep an eye out for signs that they’re getting frustrated, such as crying, arching their back, rubbing their face, or turning their head to the side. If they seem overwhelmed, take a break and try again later.
Can Babies Get Injured From Tummy Time?
With proper supervision, the answer is no. Still, it’s important to be aware of the risks so you can set up the proper precautions:
Prevent your baby from hitting their head.
If your baby is moving around a lot during tummy time, they may accidentally bang their head on the floor or other hard surfaces. This can cause bruising, swelling, and even a small bump.
If your baby hits their head, stop tummy time and check for any signs of injury. If they’re crying or won’t stop rubbing their head, call your doctor right away.
Avoid getting their arms and legs stuck.
Babies are curious creatures and love to explore. This can sometimes lead to them getting their arms and legs stuck in between the bars of a crib, in the cracks of a couch, or under a piece of furniture.
Don’t try to pull them out forcibly when this happens. You could cause them further injury. Instead, gently try to loosen their limbs and release them from the tight space.
Take out everything that can obstruct their breathing.
This is the most serious risk associated with tummy time, but it’s also rare and the most preventable. If your baby is left unattended during tummy time, they could roll over and suffocate.
To prevent this from happening, always stay within arm’s reach of your baby and never leave them alone. Clear away anything that could obstruct their breathing, such as pillows, crumpled blankets, or even stuffed animals.
Tummy time is exciting for both babies and parents. It’s a time for discovery and growth. Plus, it gives you a chance to bond with your little one. Just remember to always supervise your baby and take breaks if they seem frustrated. With a little patience and practice, they’ll be sitting up and scooting around in no time.