Newborn tummy time

As a parent of a newborn you’ve probably heard the term ‘tummy time’ and may have thought it was just a simple playtime activity with your baby. Well, yes it is, but it’s also an important way of helping your baby build muscle strength and develop his or her motor skills.

Read on to find out more about the benefits of tummy time, how to give your baby tummy time, and how you can make tummy time fun for your little one.

What Is Tummy Time?

Tummy time involves placing your wide-awake baby tummy-down for short periods of time while you closely watch him or her. This activity is important for your little one’s development as it can help strengthen the neck and shoulder muscles as well as boosting motor skills.

Just remember that your baby should always be alert, awake and supervised during tummy time sessions.

Check out this video for a quick introduction to tummy time:

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What Are the Benefits of Tummy Time for Your Baby?

Offering tummy time to your baby every day offers a variety of benefits:

  • Promotes physical development. Awake tummy time helps strengthen your baby’s upper body, especially the muscles in the back and neck, and also helps your little one gain flexibility and muscle control.

  • Could give your baby a head start with crawling. Precisely when babies crawl varies a lot from baby to baby, but those who regularly spend time on their tummies may be more likely to learn this skill before the age of 8 months old

  • Helps your baby learn to roll over. The motor skills and strength your baby develops during tummy time will be needed for rolling over and sitting, and then crawling and eventually walking.

  • Boosts your baby’s brain development. Tummy time gives your baby the chance to observe and explore his or her surroundings differently. This new perspective and the balancing skills needed help develop spatial awareness (your child’s understanding of where he or she is in relation to other objects) and strengthen the links between the left and right sides of your baby’s brain.

  • Helps ease torticollis and avoid flat head syndrome. Tummy time can be beneficial for babies with torticollis, a condition resulting in tight muscles in the neck. Tummy time, combined with exercises prescribed by a physiotherapist, can help a baby’s tight neck muscles relax. Spending time on his or her stomach while awake can also help avoid what’s known as ‘flat head syndrome’, where flat spots develop (usually temporarily) on the back of your baby's head.

  • Offers a great bonding opportunity. Tummy time is a great way of playing with your baby and strengthening the bond between you and your little one.

When Should You Start Giving Tummy Time?

You can start tummy time sessions while you and your newborn are still in the hospital, or as soon as your newborn is home from the hospital.

It’s a good idea to start early so your baby can get used to the activity. You don’t have to worry about the umbilical cord stump when you start doing tummy time. The stump has no nerve endings, so tummy time won’t hurt your baby. As long as you’re following your midwife or doctor’s advice on how to take care of your little one’s umbilical stump properly, it will be just fine.

How to Give Your Baby Tummy Time

Tummy time can be slightly different for newborn infants and older babies. Read on to learn about the specific tummy time techniques.

Tummy Time for Newborns

As your little one is just beginning to develop head and neck control, follow these guidelines for doing tummy time for newborn babies from 0 to 3 months old:

  1. Get into a reclined position in a chair, on a bed or on the floor, and place your newborn belly-down on your chest or on your lap while he or she is wide awake.

  2. Interact with your baby by looking into his or her eyes, smiling and talking in a happy sing-song voice. This is also a great way to bond with your new baby!

  3. At this stage, keep tummy time very short – start with just a few minutes at a time, two or three times a day. You can slowly increase the length and number of sessions as you see your child is enjoying the activity.

Tummy Time for Older Babies

Here's how to give your older baby tummy time from about 3 months onwards:

  1. Place your baby belly-down onto an area on the floor that’s covered with a blanket, towel or play mat

  2. Play and interact with your little one by getting down on the floor as well, and even dangling a toy in front of him or her. Putting toys, pictures or mirrors on the floor nearby is a great way of encouraging your baby to turn his or her head. This strengthens the neck muscles and develops visual tracking skills.

  3. Keep increasing the length of tummy time sessions a little at a time. If you’ve been giving tummy time since birth you could try and aim for a total of an hour a day (broken up into several sessions) around this time.

By 4 months old most babies can hold their head up and looking around. At around 5 months your baby may start reaching out for objects and a few weeks later may start passing items from one hand to the other.

At around 6 months you may see your baby pushing him or herself up on his or her arms, as if getting ready to crawl. Sometime within the following few weeks your child may learn to roll over.

How Often Should Your Baby Do Tummy Time?

It’s a good idea to do tummy time two to three times a day. Newborns only need a few minutes at a time, but as your baby gets older (and starts getting used to this activity), you can increase the frequency and length of sessions.

If you start giving tummy time from birth, by the time your little one is three months old he or she could be able to do around an hour of tummy time, spread over several sessions every day.

Where Is the Best Place for Tummy Time?

In the newborn stage (from 0 to around 3 months), you can start doing tummy time with your baby placed on your own chest or belly, or in your lap.

Later, the best place to do tummy time is on a low, safe surface. A play mat, rug or blanket spread on the floor is ideal.

To avoid the risk of falling or suffocation, avoid giving your baby tummy time on a high surface such as a bed or changing table, or on a soft pillow or duvet.

What If Your Baby Hates Tummy Time?

Your baby may not like being on his or her tummy in the beginning – after all, it’s a position that can take some getting used to. One way of getting your little one in the mood for tummy time is to use it as an opportunity for play.

Here are a few strategies you can try:

  • Dangle a colourful toy within your baby’s reach to occupy his or her attention.

  • Experiment with different toys to see what gets your little one’s attention. Babies are often fascinated by mirrors, for example.

  • Get on the floor yourself in your baby’s line of sight, make eye contact and entertain him or her by making funny faces or by singing.

  • Instead of placing your baby on a surface for tummy time, try placing your baby on your lap or chest. This is especially recommended for newborns. Make eye contact and keep talking to your baby to give comfort and encouragement.

  • Try making it easier for your little one by putting a rolled-up towel under his or her arms. Eventually, once your baby gets the hang of tummy time you can remove this extra support.

Your baby will usually get the hang of this new activity and come to like it. If you’re concerned that your baby really isn’t enjoying tummy time, ask your health visitor for advice.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

  • Start tummy time while you and your baby are still in the hospital, or as soon as your newborn is home from the hospital. The earlier the better!
  • Here are three steps for doing tummy time with your newborn:

    1. Place your newborn belly-down on your chest or on your lap while he is wide awake
    2. Put your baby at ease by making eye contact, smiling and talking in a sing-song voice
    3. Keep tummy time short – just a few minutes at a time about two to three times per day.
  • Experts strongly recommend tummy time for your baby as an important way of helping develop neck and head control, building muscle strength and promoting sensory development.

Practicing tummy time each day will bring lots of rewards in terms of your baby’s physical and sensory development. For your baby, it’s an important way of developing the motor skills and muscle control needed for all the exciting milestones you still have to look forward to – such as sitting up, crawling and eventually walking.

How we wrote this article The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.