tummy time, newborn, when to start tummy time

What is tummy time for babies?

Tummy time for newborns may seem like all fun and games. But it’s actually an important developmental step for infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends tummy time for all babies.

“Tummy time promotes motor skills, sensory skills and bonding and engagement. It also prevents your baby from developing a flat spot on their head, sometimes called flat head syndrome,” Luis Garcia, MD, a pediatrician at OSF HealthCare, said.

Benefits of tummy time

“To sit, run, walk or any skill we use for the rest of our life, we have to start by building the strength of our muscles. Tummy time strengthens a baby’s neck and core muscles,” Dr. Garcia said.

Tummy time is hard work for babies.

“This is the best gym of your life,” Dr. Garcia said.

Tummy time encourages infants to start lifting their heads and taking in new surroundings.

“Our babies are mostly head when they’re born. They need to exercise other parts of their bodies. By laying on their stomachs, they’re working their neck muscles and stimulating the nerves in their hands.”

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that babies are real little people. Just like us, they don’t want to see the same thing all day long.

“Instead of looking at the ceiling all day, you flip them over, and it’s a whole new world to look at. You literally turn their world upside down,” Dr. Garcia said.

How long should your baby do tummy time?

“Initially start with a few short periods of time a day, and then increase progressively,” Dr. Garcia said.

“Put them down three to five minutes three times a day.”

As they get a little bit older, you can start to let them have more and more time.

“No matter how you do tummy time, you want to do it in a supervised way,” Dr. Garcia said.

How often should your baby do tummy time?

When your baby is a newborn, they can only handle tummy time for a few minutes at a time before they get too fussy. It’s OK if they fuss a little while on their belly. But it is a workout for them to be on their belly, so don’t make them stay uncomfortable for too long.

As your baby gets older, they can handle longer periods of time – 30 minutes to two hours at a time.

You should do tummy time at least three times a day in the beginning – more if you can.

As your baby can handle longer stretches of time on their tummy, they can have fewer tummy time sessions.

When should I start tummy time?

“You should start tummy time with your baby as soon as possible,” Dr. Garcia said.

You can even start tummy time the day you come home from the hospital.

Put your baby on your lap or chest on their tummy. Older babies can do tummy time on the floor.

It’s also never too late to start tummy time. If you haven’t set a tummy time schedule yet or haven’t given your baby much tummy time, that’s OK. Just go ahead and start now. Your baby can still develop critical skills and hit milestones.

Tummy time age

  • Newborn to one month old: Two to three minutes at a time about five times a day
  • One to two months: 15-30 minutes a couple of times a day
  • Two to three months: 30 minutes to an hour at least once a day
  • Four to six months old: One to two hours at least once a day
  • Six months of age and older: Two hours or more a day

The importance of play and toys

Your baby spends their days working through play. That’s why toys are so important.

Toys help babies develop different skills. Lifting toys promotes muscle strength and control. Certain toys, like pop-up toys, promote critical thinking and problem solving. High-contrast toys and sensory toys, like touch-and-feel books, promote development of the senses and nerve endings.

Have tummy time concerns?

> Talk to your pediatrician

Toys that make noise encourage imitation and promote language skills.

They also promote emotional development, social skills and creativity. Having toys during tummy time gives babies something to look at and keep them engaged.

Playing and spending time with your baby is one of the best things you can do. Babies like faces. By looking at peoples’ faces, eyes, mouth and facial expressions, babies learn important social skills. Plus, it helps your baby feel safe and loved by you.

Tell your baby stories, narrate what you’re doing through the day, play peek-a-boo, put on puppet shows and sing to your baby. Make eye contact while interacting with your baby.

The best tummy time toys

Choose age-appropriate toys for your baby. In the first few weeks, your baby doesn’t need toys. They’ll likely just do tummy time on your chest or lap.

When babies are about a month old, their eye strength is still developing. Choose toys like high-contrast flashcards or a mirror.

A rattle that wraps around their wrist or ankle will encourage movement while on their tummy. Any floor toy that makes noise when your baby’s foot hits it, like a floor piano, makes tummy time more fun.

You can put your baby on their tummy on a play gym or mat. These usually have toys that dangle in front of your baby.

Choosing safe toys

Babies put everything in their mouth. It’s one of the ways they discover their world. However, that means you need to be extra careful with the toys you provide for your baby.

If a toy is smaller than your baby’s fist, it’s too small for your baby to play with. Avoid toys that are long and skinny that can get stuck in your baby’s windpipe.

Check the age recommendation on the toy box. Toys that are not suitable for babies should have a warning on the packaging.

If a toy is battery operated, make sure that there is a secure cover over the batteries.

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About Author: Katie Faley

Katie Faley is a Writing Coordinator for OSF HealthCare. She graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in English Studies. Before joining OSF HealthCare in 2021, she worked in magazine editing, digital marketing and freelance writing.
Katie is often found listening to ‘60s folk music, deciding on a new skill to learn, losing track of time in a library or spending time with her family and friends.

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Categories: Birth & Maternity, Kids & Family