Tummy Time For Babies: When To Start, How To And Benefits

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Tummy time for babies is the practice of laying babies on their tummies for short durations, several times a day when they are awake and under adult supervision. It is considered one of the most preferable and suitable positions to let babies play and explore the world.

It is usual for first-time parents to feel apprehensive about laying their babies on their tummies. However, it may help to know that tummy time is safe and healthy and supports the baby’s growth and development.

Read this post to know when to start tummy time, the accurate way to do it safely, precautions to take, and tips on making tummy time interesting for babies.

When To Start Tummy Time For Babies?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and National Institute of Health (NIH), newborn babies can have two to three supervised tummy time sessions each day from the first day at home. The sessions’ duration can be as short as three to five minutes (2) (3).

Once the baby grows and becomes comfortable, you can extend the tummy time duration to strengthen your baby’s head, neck, and upper body muscles (4).

For babies whose umbilical cord has not fallen off yet or the stump area is not healed or babies who are premature/unwell, tummy time can be given in an alternate safe way by sitting in a laid back position (reclining position) and placing the newborn on your chest (with the baby’s front side of the body on your chest).

How Much Tummy Time Should Babies Have?

Every baby is different. While some may enjoy tummy time for longer, others might find it interesting only for a short duration. In either case, parents can aim for an hour or 60 minutes of tummy time, split into multiple sessions each day by three months of age (5).

You can begin with short sessions and gradually extend their duration over the first several months. Remember, tummy time helps a baby’s development, so encourage your baby to tummy as much as possible. Make the activity interactive to harbor your baby’s interest.  

What Are The Benefits Of Tummy Time For Infants?

Experts recommend tummy time for babies as it helps (3) (6):

  1. Strengthen upper body muscles that newborns and babies require to lift head, roll over, sit up, crawl, and walk.
  2. Promote motor skills development and coordination necessary to reach out for objects lying in front of them.
  3. Gain body and head control that helps the baby move from one position to another.
  4. Prevent flat spots (positional plagiocephaly) at the back of their head.
  5. May relieve colic symptoms and comfort the baby (7).
  6. May help ease stiffness of neck muscles in newborns. This condition is called torticollis.

Besides the benefits, tummy time could offer the baby a new perspective of the world. On the tummy, babies can lift their heads and watch the world around. It isn’t possible when the baby is lying on their back.

How To Prepare For Tummy Time?

Here are some simple tummy time tips you can follow to have a fun and exciting time with your baby (6) (8).

  1. Gather tummy time supplies: Although a flat surface and a mat or a carpet are sufficient to begin tummy time, you can add some more items to make the activity fun. Age-appropriate musical or noise-making toys, objects with different textures, unbreakable mirrors, board or cloth books, and flashcards are items you can consider. You can also play soothing music in the background to make the environment pleasing.
  1. Prepare the play area: Make a small area ready for tummy time by cleaning it properly. Preferably do tummy time on a flat surface, such as the floor. Spread out your blanket, play mat, or carpet and spread the toys or flashcards on it. Set up a regular time for tummy time, such as you would do for naps, baths, or diapers. It can help establish a daily tummy time routine for the baby.
  1. Ready the baby: Dress your baby in onesies or infant bodysuit so that they may feel different textures on their skin. While a baby is on their tummy, the skin on their arms, legs, and stomach senses the surface on which they are lying. As the baby moves against the surface, the friction gives them an idea about the surface.
  1. Involve with the baby: While putting your baby on their tummy, ensure they are alert, awake, and calm. Initially, keep the session short, i.e., no more than three to five minutes at a stretch. Gradually lengthen the duration depending on the baby’s tolerance and needs. Interact with the baby by playing with them using toys and other items. Encourage them to reach out to the toys. You can involve older siblings in the activity to help them bond with the baby.
  1. Try different spots: Try different tummy time places or spots throughout the day. You may change the spot every ten to 15 minutes. In one session, you can keep the baby on the floor, and in the other, on your chest. You can also keep the baby tummy down across your lap. Remember to support their head to avoid hanging. If your baby cries or feels tired, raise and lower your legs in a slow fluttering motion and move the baby side-to-side to calm them.

As babies spend more time on their tummies, they tend to get comfortable with the activity.  

Precautions To Take While Doing Tummy Time

Here are some precautions to observe for keeping tummy time safe for babies (4).

  • If your baby has a medical condition, consult a pediatrician before implementing tummy time. In premature infants, babies with special needs, and reflux disease, tummy time may not be safe.
  • Place your baby on a safe and firm surface to do tummy time comfortably. Once babies begin rolling over, placing them on the floor is most suitable.
  • Initiate tummy time when the baby is alert and awake as they may be able to tolerate the activity for longer.
  • Observe signs, such as crying or resting face on the surface, indicating the baby is tired, and it’s time to end the session. If the baby appears sleepy, place them in the crib on their back to prevent SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
  • Don’t keep your baby on their tummy immediately after feeding, as it can lead to spitting up.
  • Never leave the baby unattended during tummy time or whenever they are on their tummy.

If your baby does tummy time but isn’t meeting their milestones, don’t panic. Discuss your concerns with your pediatrician, and remember back to sleep, tummy to play. 

What If The Baby Doesn’t Seem To Like Tummy Time?

It isn’t necessary for every baby to like tummy time. For some, you need to make it fun and exciting. Here are some things that you can try.

  1. Make tummy time appealing: Place a toy in front of the baby and talk to them. Remember to make eye contact as it will encourage them to respond. You can also sit or lie on your tummy, facing the baby, make faces, or mimic their expressions to engage them in the activity. Reading a story, singing a song, and showing bright-colored pictures are other ways to make the tummy time exciting. If your baby doesn’t like lying on their stomach despite your repeated efforts, you can try side-lying.
  1. Try side-lying with support: Place your baby on a flat surface on their side. Support their back with a folded towel and their head with another folded towel or washcloth. Now, place their arms and legs in front with their knees bent. Engage your baby with an age-appropriate toy or flashcards. Consult a pediatrician and practice the position well before trying it on your baby (9).

Don’t get discouraged if your baby doesn’t accept tummy time easily. Be patient and give time to your baby. Remember, even a little tummy time can be beneficial for your baby.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What happens if I don’t do tummy time for babies?

Babies who do not get enough tummy time may need more time to develop specific motor skills. They may reach some milestones, such as crawling and reaching objects, late than the babies who get tummy time. They may also develop a flat spot on the back of their head, known as plagiocephaly (10).

2. Is tummy time better on the bed or floor?

You can put a blanket or mat under the babies when you put them on the floor. Tummy time may be better on the floor as babies can push themselves up better from a firm surface. However, you can also do it on the bed, but be careful about the baby not getting suffocated with the mattress, blanket, pillows, etc.

3. Should I stop tummy time if the baby cries?

If the baby begins to cry, try to comfort them by caressing their back, singing songs, or distracting them with toys. Gradually increase the duration of tummy time each day.

Tummy time for babies plays an important role in their initial growth and development as it helps strengthen their upper body and muscles. With adequate tummy time sessions, your baby will gain control of their neck and head, among other significant benefits. Hence, practice tummy time for babies to aid their development while taking the necessary precautions to avoid spitting up or SIDS complications. It may be difficult to keep them in that position for longer durations, but they will gradually become familiar with the routine with a little help and some fun toys to play with.

Key Pointers

  • Start tummy time with short sessions and gradually increase the duration.
  • Tummy time helps the baby by increasing muscle strength and endurance, soothing colic, and reducing stiffness.
  • Make tummy time interesting for babies by placing some toys around them.


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Swati Patwal

Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist, a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) and a toddler mom with over eight years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She started her career as a CSR project coordinator for a healthy eating and active lifestyle project catering to school children. Then she worked as a nutrition faculty and clinical nutrition coach in different... more

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