Tummy time: a cute name for an activity that many babies don’t actually enjoy (at least not at first). But whether they like it or not, tummy time is an important developmental activity for your little one. Here’s everything you need to know about tummy time, including some of our best tips to help make it more enjoyable for baby (and you).
Why Should My Baby Do Tummy Time?
Since the American Academy of Pediatrics began recommending that babies should be put to sleep on their backs to prevent SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), babies today naturally spend a lot less time on their bellies. And less time on their stomach using certain muscle groups can lead to delays in the development of important motor-skills like crawling and rolling.
Enter tummy time. Ensuring that baby spends a period of time every day on their belly while they’re awake (and supervised) will help your little one develop the strong shoulder and neck muscles that will prepare them to roll, scooch and eventually crawl. Other tummy time benefits include exposing your little one to new textures (think about how the feel of laying skin to skin with mama must feel different from laying on a soft blanket or carpet), and allows baby to get a brand new, eye-level perspective of the world.
When Should I Do Tummy Time with My Newborn?
Babies can begin to benefit from tummy time shortly after birth in the hospital while doing skin to skin with their parents. After bringing baby home from the hospital, you can begin doing tummy time on a clean floor, play mat, or on a blanket (just be sure that the blanket is secured so it doesn’t wrap around baby’s arms or legs as they wiggle around). The sooner you begin to get babies on their bellies, the sooner they may accept that this is a “normal” position to be in.
Aim to get baby on their belly to play and interact with you two to three times every day for a short period of time (about three to five minutes each time). Increase the length of tummy time as baby begins to enjoy the activity (shoot for about an hour of tummy time in total each day). Most experts recommend working tummy time into baby’s daily routine—for example, after a diaper change. But word to the wise—it’s a good idea to wait 20-30 minutes after baby eats to do tummy time…spit up is inevitable when they have a full belly.
How Can I Help Make Tummy Time More Enjoyable?
Some babies simply dislike tummy time—they might grunt, whine, and even cry in protest. But don’t let that deter you from including tummy time in baby’s routine. Here are a few ways to make tummy time a more pleasant experience for everyone involved:
- Place toys just out of reach to look at, or even in a circle around baby. As they get older and stronger, they will begin reaching and start working on scooting, rolling and eventually crawling. Choose toys with contrasting colors, or sounds and lights to really catch and hold baby’s attention.
- Break out a mirror: while your little one won’t know they’re looking at their own reflection, most babies get a kick out of peeking and laughing at the “other” baby in the mirror.
- Lie down or sit in a reclining position with your little one on your chest (be sure to keep your hands on baby to prevent them from rolling). Baby will love chatting with you and getting lots of eye contact. If your baby can’t quite lift their head yet, alternate which side of their head rests on your chest.
- If your little one has a sibling, encourage them to help with tummy time by laying down across from baby. Babies love seeing other kids, and your big kid will enjoy their role as a silly helper. They can do some show and tell with their own toys, or make up songs to keep baby’s attention.
- If your baby simply won’t tolerate being on his or her belly just yet, try some time on their side instead. You can prop their back against a rolled up towel (add a small towel or blanket under the side of their head if it needs some support). Keep baby’s arms in front of them, and bring their legs forward at the hips with knees bent. This position can help them begin to work some of the same muscles, and help them get comfortable in positions other than on their back (or in your arms).
No matter how you accomplish tummy time with your little one, make it fun and keep it safe. Babies should always be supervised during tummy time. Never walk away from your little one during these moments. If your baby was born prematurely or has special needs, be sure to speak to baby’s provider about tummy time in the event there are any particular considerations to keep in mind. And remember—while tummy time is important during playtime, your little one should always be put to sleep on their back at nighttime and nap time.