“Tummy time,” to pediatricians and other experts, is the time infants spend awake and supervised on their stomach. Babies promote important muscle development during tummy time, laying the foundation for bigger milestones like crawling and walking.
To the new parents and babies, though, “tummy time” can have another definition: a miserable, frustrating experience that no one enjoys but parents feel like they have to do.
Why Is Tummy Time Important?
Your baby’s first year is filled with milestones. It’s hard to imagine when you look at the tiny, helpless newborn in your arms, but he may be toddling around by his first birthday! Milestones like rolling, crawling, standing, and taking first steps happen at different times for every baby, but all babies need to develop their muscles to achieve these major motor skills. Tummy time gives your baby a chance to develop neck and shoulder strength and practice coordinated movements (like pushing up slightly from the floor to turn her head from side to side).
Tummy time can also lessen the chance that your baby will develop plagiocephaly, or flat spots on the head. The safe sleep practice of laying babies on their back every time reduces SIDS risk, but a less desired side effect is that the soft bones in your baby’s skull can flatten from the constant pressure. Spending time in a different position gives those bones a break. Properly developed neck muscles may also make it more comfortable for your baby to position her head in different angles on her back, too.
How Much Tummy Time Does Baby Need?
A little tummy time goes a long way. If your baby is healthy, you can start tummy time sessions right away, as soon as you’re back home from giving birth. Two or three sessions a day is plenty, with each session lasting about 3-5 minutes. Does that still feel long? Make it shorter. Even 30-60 seconds of supervised tummy time is good.
As babies get stronger, they can spend longer stretches learning to wiggle and turn their head from side to side. At one month, aim for a total of 15 minutes of tummy time per day, broken into sessions of 5 minutes (or more, if your baby’s doing well). By 3-4 months, your pediatrician may hope to see Baby clocking 30 minutes of tummy time, again broken into shorter sessions.
By the time your baby can roll independently, you can typically stop doing “official” tummy time.
Stress-Free Tummy Time Tips
It’s common, and normal, for brand-new babies not to enjoy tummy time. You’re asking this tiny person to exercise in a way they’ve never done. Follow these guidelines to have an easier time:
- Pick a time when your baby is happy. When your infant is rested and fed, he or she may have more patience to try some activity.
- Rest your baby against you. In the first week or two, laying back with your baby lying chest-to-chest on you totally counts as tummy time! Sing or talk to your baby to bond and encourage her to look up at you. Make sure you don’t nod off–do this with someone else around to keep an eye on you if you can.
- Keep sessions short. Remember, this is a benefit for your baby. This isn’t a test to please your pediatrician, mother, mother-in-law, or partner. If your baby’s wailing after 20 seconds, pick him up and try again later.
- Make it fun. Rattle a toy, smile at your baby, or sit just out of view. Give your little one something interesting to check out or a reason to try to turn their head.