All pediatricians recommend “tummy time” for newborns - having babies practice being on their belly instead of their back. Spending time on their belly is crucial for their development, especially because newborns spend most of their time sleeping (on their backs)! Parents can begin tummy time as soon as they come home from the hospital unless the baby has a medical condition preventing them from safely doing so! The sooner parents start tummy time, the sooner they can help their little one’s physical development.
Tummy time is important for developing strength in the neck, shoulders, and back. These muscles are crucial for later developmental milestones such as lifting the head, rolling over, and eventually, crawling and standing. Having adequate time on their bellies can help babies avoid conditions such as flat head syndrome and torticollis. Thus, the official recommendation is “back to sleep, tummy to play.” At first, aim for just a few minutes at a time of “tummy time,” and then work up to an hour of tummy time by three months of age.
Why is the importance of tummy time being emphasized so much by pediatricians and child development experts? The “back to sleep” movement, started to prevent SIDs and encourage safe sleep practices, which has caused babies to spend much of their time on their backs. Newborns sleep for the majority of the day - meaning they spend a ton of time on their back, not their side or belly! Thus, it is important for new parents to remember that newborns also need time on their belly during wakeful periods!
Tummy time doesn’t have to be a complicated, thought-out activity! It can be as simple as laying a blanket on the floor and placing your baby on their belly. Start small - like 3-5 minute increments - a few times each day when your baby is a newborn. As your baby grows stronger, increase the amount of tummy time she has each day. The goal is to work up to 45-60 minutes of tummy time every day!
Thankfully, there are many items marketed to babies that are wonderful for assisting in tummy time. Most baby stores have activity mats your baby can lay on, and many have toys, lights, and music to attract your little one’s attention. These activity mats are a great item to put on your baby registry - all new parents will want to have one on hand! You may even want to purchase a few special toys to use during tummy time - may be a toy that lights up or sings, or has vivid colors or stark contrasts of black and white. Place toys in a circle around your baby during tummy time, and soon your little one will be encouraged to roll and scoot around toward the toys!
So what happens if your baby hates tummy time? This may be more common than you think!
The first thing is to just keep trying. Be persistent about placing your baby on his belly for a few minutes each and every day! Your baby may learn to be more comfortable over time. Another thing you can do is get on your baby’s level. Do tummy time with him! Get on the floor, on your belly, facing your baby, and talk, sing, or read to your little one. He may enjoy having that special one-on-one attention! You may also want to grab a special toy or a mirror - give your baby something new and exciting to look at. If your baby has older siblings, get them on board! Have them lay on the floor with their baby brother or sister. Some babies don’t like to be completely flat on their belly - this position just isn’t comfortable for them. You can buy a special “tummy time pillow,” or just roll up a small blanket, and place it under baby’s chest and shoulders so they are propped up a little. You can even place baby on a Boppy pillow for tummy time.
If all else fails, remember that “tummy time” can also include baby’s time laying on your belly or chest! Some babies just prefer to be closer to a caregiver at all times. Placing the baby on your chest counts as tummy time and can be a great way to encourage her upper body strength.
Whether your baby loves tummy time or dreads it, it is vitally important for babies to spend time on their belly! If your baby is not a fan of tummy time at first, keep trying. Talk to your pediatrician about ideas to make it more comfortable for your little one. As your baby grows and matures, tummy time can be a fun bonding experience for both of you!
Parenting is awesome. Sleep is overrated. Every day is an adventure.