As a new or expecting parent, you’ve probably been told over and over the importance of having your baby sleep on his back. But don’t let your baby spend all his time on his back. This can lead to a flat head and delay your baby’s development of motor skills. Counterbalance time spent on his back with, you guessed it, tummy time.
Why do babies need tummy time?
After several hours lying on her back sleeping, your baby needs to spend some time each day on her tummy. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting tummy time with your baby the day she comes home from the hospital, as long as your baby wasn’t born premature and has no health issues. Start out doing it two to three times a day for three to five minutes at a time. You can then increase the amount of time and frequency of tummy time over the next few months until your baby works up to about one hour of tummy time a day.
Whether he’s spending five minutes or an hour on his tummy, tummy time is pivotal for your baby’s physical development:
- Strengthens the muscles in your baby’s neck, shoulders, back, and core.
- Develops strength and motor skills that will help your baby roll over, sit up, crawl, and walk.
- Prevents your baby from developing a flat spot on the back of his head.
- Relieves gas pain.
What counts as tummy time?
The AAP suggests starting tummy time when your baby is only a few days old, but how do you do tummy time with a newborn? Aren’t they too little to lay on the floor and play? Yes, newborns are too little for that, but they’re not too little for tummy time.
The best way to do tummy time with a newborn is laying down with your baby belly-down on your chest, placing her belly-down on your legs, or doing the tummy down carry as you take a short walk around the house. This keeps your baby feeling safe and comfortably close to you while also letting her get used to this position.
Once your baby is out of the newborn stage, you can start laying him down on his stomach on a soft, but firm, flat surface to play. Any awake time your baby spends on his tummy (supervised of course) counts as tummy time.
Ways to Mix It Up and Make Tummy Time Fun
As you may learn, tummy time isn’t always a favorite awake time activity. Some babies scream and cry in protest when placed on their stomachs. It’s a new, uncomfortable position, and one where gravity is working against them so they have to work really hard to keep their head lifted to see you. Your baby will probably be cranky the first several times you do tummy time. If your baby doesn’t seem to act any better at tummy time, it’s OK to do it for only a minute or two at first and then work up to longer time periods as you can. You can even take a day off and see if it helps.
You can also try these tips to make tummy time more enjoyable:
- Get down on the floor with your baby and have plenty of face-to-face eye contact.
- Talk, sing, read a book, or make noises and faces at your baby.
- Put a mirror (one that won’t break) in front of her.
- Spread different types, colors, and sizes of tummy-time toys around your baby for him to look at and reach for.
- Use a small, rolled-up receiving blanket or a small and firm pillow, maybe a nursing pillow, as a cushioned support under her chest and arms. Some doctors call this the ‘superman’ position.
- Switch up where you do tummy time so he gets a nice change of scenery.
- Rotate who’s doing tummy time with your baby. This helps your baby learn to play and interact with mom, dad, grandparents, etc., and gives each of you quality bonding time with your baby.
However you choose to do tummy time, remember to make it a fun, regular part of your day so you and baby will both enjoy it.
Tummy Time Safety
Along with keeping it fun, you want to make tummy time safe. Follow these safety measures:
- Make sure you and baby are fully awake and alert during tummy time. Right after a nap or diaper change is usually a good wake time.
- Don’t do it right after feeding. The pressure on your baby’s stomach after feeding may cause her to spit up.
- Lay your baby down on a low, solid surface. A good place is on the floor on a blanket or playmat.
- Keep your baby away from kids, pets, and other things that could potentially harm him.
- Never leave your baby unattended. An adult should always supervise tummy time.
- Start with short sessions and then work your way up to longer ones as your baby shows she is ready.
Tummy Time + Baby Carriers
Did you know that you can use baby carriers for tummy time? Babywearing with an upright, ergonomic baby carrier works your baby’s head, neck, and core muscles just like tummy time does. So if your little one is really protesting tummy time on the floor, try putting him in a carrier.