What Is Tummy Time and When Do You Start It? Get the Answers Now!

    Published 09 July 2019
    Fact Checked
    Reviewed by Marina Savchenko, MD, Pediatric Neurologist, Medical Consultant at Flo
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    When you first bring your infant home, you might already be thinking about what to do to keep your baby healthy and developing as expected. Tummy time is one of the simplest, yet most effective, activities you can do with your baby to help them learn new skills.

    What is tummy time?

    Tummy time, as the name suggests, is simply time that your baby spends on their tummy. Keep in mind that your baby needs to be awake, alert, and under the supervision of an adult during tummy time. When your baby goes to sleep, place them on their back to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

    When should you start tummy time?

    As long as your baby was born full term and doesn't have any health conditions, you can start tummy time as soon as you are home with your newborn. In fact, pediatricians recommend that you start tummy time sessions the same day that your baby comes home. Yes, your baby can do tummy time even before your breast milk comes in

    As your baby grows and gains new physical skills, they'll be able to do more complex tasks during tummy time.

    How much tummy time is okay for your baby? 

    It might not seem like a lot, but a few minutes is usually enough for your baby to reap the benefits of tummy time. For newborns, approximately 15 minutes of tummy time each day is more than enough. But here's the catch: most babies don't like tummy time at first.

    In many cases, your baby will only be on their tummy for a few seconds or a minute before they decide that they don't like it. But persistence is key. After a few sessions, your baby will start to enjoy their tummy time. Rather than trying to fit in all 15 minutes at once, keep your baby's tummy time sessions short (3–5 minutes). Repeat these sessions two to three times each day, and they'll get all the exercise they need!

    As your baby grows stronger, they'll be able to tolerate longer tummy time sessions. This shouldn't be too hard. Once your baby is able to grasp objects and wiggle around, they'll probably enjoy being on their tummies much more.

    How to do tummy time with a newborn

    First, make sure that your baby is fully awake before tummy time. Avoid tummy time right after your baby breastfeeds, since the extra pressure on their stomachs could cause them to spit up. 

    To start tummy time for newborns, simply lay your baby face down across your lap or on your chest. Your first sessions will probably be very short. But as your baby gets used to this position, they'll be able to stay on their tummy for longer.

    Once your baby is more comfortable during tummy time, move to the floor. Place a clean towel or a play mat, definitely a newborn essential, on the floor, and use this space for tummy time. Try scheduling tummy time sessions after your baby wakes up from a nap or after a diaper change. This will ensure that they're awake and energized during tummy time.

    Place yourself in front of your baby and keep your face close to theirs. Doing this can encourage the baby to try to lift up their head to meet you. As your baby grows and gains mobility, try placing colorful toys just out of their reach to coax them into moving towards the toys. As your baby grows, tummy time will become a more active experience. Before you know it, your baby will be older and running around, you'll have stopped breastfeeding, and the benefits of tummy time will become apparent! 

    If you have pets, keep them away from the area where tummy time is taking place. Never leave a baby unattended during tummy time. If they become sleepy, put them on their back inside their crib for a nap. You should never let your baby sleep on their stomach, as it's not safe. Once your baby is taking their nap, you can take that time to work on your own fitness or just get some much needed me-time.  

    Benefits of tummy time

    You might be wondering what the benefits of tummy time really are. Tummy time really can do wonders for your baby's development.

    Some of the benefits of tummy time include the following:

    • It prepares your baby for new developmental milestones such as being ready to crawl.
    • It will improve your baby's head control. This helps them look around and follow people or objects with their eyes, which can improve coordination.
    • It helps your baby's neck, upper back, arms, and shoulder muscles get stronger. This will help them roll over, crawl, sit up, and walk in due time.
    • It helps prevent the formation of flat spots on the back of their head, which can be caused by being on their back too long. This condition is known as positional plagiocephaly, and it tends to go away with time.
    • It develops their motor skills, as they try to reach for your face or different objects.
    • It can help you bond with your baby. Other friends and family members can interact with them during tummy time to strengthen their relationship with the new baby.
    • It can help your baby expend some energy, which might help them fall asleep more easily later on during the day.
    • Research has shown that tummy time can help babies with congenital disorders, such as Down syndrome, reach motor developmental milestones sooner than babies with Down syndrome who don't get enough tummy time.

    Tummy time for babies might seem like an insignificant activity, but it's absolutely necessary to ensure that your child reaches motor milestones on time. Making sure that your baby spends time on their tummy can make a huge difference in their development. Make sure that you spend some quality tummy time with your baby every day!

    History of updates

    Current version (09 July 2019)

    Reviewed by Marina Savchenko, MD, Pediatric Neurologist, Medical Consultant at Flo

    Published (09 July 2019)

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