As a new or soon-to-be parent, you might have heard about how important tummy time is to your baby. But as important as it is, there’s just so much information out there. It can get overwhelming. The good news is that it doesn’t have to.
Tummy time is a special part of your baby’s development and an excellent opportunity to bond as they grow and get used to their bodies.
What is tummy time?
Tummy time, as the name suggests, refers to when a baby is placed on their stomach while awake. It’s a specific exercise to help them develop their back, neck, and shoulder muscles. It’s usually done in short phases that can range from 30 seconds to a few minutes at a time.
Why is it important?
Tummy time helps your baby develop the muscles they’ll use to lift and stabilize their heads. Those aren’t muscles they’re born using, of course, but things change when they start crawling and eventually walking. By the time that happens, the muscles in their shoulders, back, and neck need to be developed to a point where they can help your baby maintain their balance and keep comfortable when upright. But tummy time isn’t just good for developing important muscles. It gives babies a break from being on their backs, which reduces flatness caused by their heads resting on surfaces constantly.
When should babies start tummy time?
Well, for a healthy baby carried to full term, you can usually start as soon as you get home. Every baby is different and will respond differently to tummy time at first. Newborns may not immediately take to it – it is an exercise after all, and isn’t as comfortable as lying on their backs or in your arms. But there are ways to make it comfortable, enjoying and fulfilling. At the end of the day, it’s about helping your baby develop with as little unnecessary stress as possible. As for when to stop tummy time, that depends on your baby’s development. Once they can roll over onto their stomachs without your help, you can probably stop having dedicated tummy time sessions. This usually happens when they’re around 6 months old. If you’re ever unsure, don’t hesitate to ask your pediatrician.
Tummy time for newborns
When you and your baby first come home, there are some things to consider before starting tummy time. There’s a good chance there might be discomfort at first. This will be the first real exercise those new, supple muscles are getting, so it’s best to limit tummy time to a minute at most at a time for newborns. Tummy time should only ever be done during the day when your baby is awake, alert, and relaxed. It’s also important to build a routine, and the period just after a nap is a great time for exercise. When your baby wakes up, make sure they’re fed and their diaper’s been changed. Tummy time can be stressful in the beginning, so remove external stressors when you can. A newborn can only see things that are 8 to 12 inches from their face. Their eyesight isn’t that strong yet. When picking toys for tummy time, remember babies respond best to bright, high contrast colors. Black and white stripes are great for this, as are primary colors! In the beginning, your newborn will get tired of tummy time pretty quickly, so limit it to 10 minutes a day in total, with plenty of time to rest between sessions.
Tummy time for 2-3-month-olds
Two months in, your baby’s muscles are starting to get accustomed to the exercise. If you’ve been building a routine from the start, your baby should hopefully be more comfortable with the activity too. As a general rule, try to aim for an increase of ten minutes of tummy time a day for every month your baby develops. This also tends to be the age where babies start becoming particularly fussy about tummy time, so make sure to reduce stressors and keep the stimuli fun! If toys can’t settle them, don’t worry! As a parent, your face is one of your baby's favorite things to look at. Lay down with them so that you’re face to face. This will encourage them to look up while also keeping you close to support and entertain them.
Tummy Time 4-6+ months
By the time your baby is six months old, they should be comfortable with an hour of tummy time a day. That time should still be split up into sessions no longer than 10 minutes at a time.
What to do at tummy time
The standard tummy time exercise is to place your baby on their tummy on a gentle surface. You want a surface like a newborn-safe playmat that can provide a stable base without hurting their tender bodies. You want to encourage your baby to use their muscles to lift their head, and this is where you can have the most fun. Use bright, high-contrast toys to draw their attention and encourage them to look up – and remember to keep the toys close enough for them to see. You can also turn tummy time into a bonding session in two ways. If your baby is doing tummy time on the floor, lay across from them on your tummy. Babies respond especially well to faces, and, to them, your face is better than any toy. If your baby doesn’t like tummy time or is having a hard time on the floor, try the chest-to-chest position. With your baby’s chest on yours, sit down somewhere that lets you recline pretty far back. You can even do this by laying on the floor with a big pillow propping up your shoulders. The incline will make it easier for your baby to lift their head without fighting against gravity. The skin contact and proximity to you are also excellent regulators, so it’s perfect for babies who don’t like tummy time. You can decrease your incline over time until your back is flat on the floor with your baby on your chest. We hope you found this information useful. More importantly, we hope that your next (or first!) tummy time experience is fun for you and your baby!
If you’d like to help other parents who might need it, consider sharing this post. Happy parenting!