At our very first check-up, after my daughter was born, the doctor mentioned that we should go ahead and start doing tummy time with her.
Of course, I had heard about this position during our prenatal courses and from my previous time around babies, but I never realized exactly what it entailed or that newborns (as in, days old) could/should be doing it too.
For anyone who hasn’t heard of the term before, tummy time is an important exercise for babies’ physical development where they spend a certain period of awake time on their tummy (stomach).
This position helps babies improve their neck strength as well as other benefits which we’ll go over shortly.
It sounds simple enough but there are often many questions that arise with this activity.
We’ll find the answers to a number of them such as:
- What are the benefits of tummy time?
- At what age should a baby do tummy time?
- What positions are for tummy time?
- What are the best toys for tummy time?
DISCLAIMER: This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.
What are the Benefits of Tummy Time
As soon as you become a new mom, everywhere you start hearing about the term. But why is tummy time important for a baby?
Does every baby need to do it? Is it just all about strengthening the neck muscles?
I did a little research and found a lot of reasons why it is so important for your little one.
The main benefit of tummy time for newborns is to develop neck strength, but it also helps to prevent flat spots on the baby’s head (Plagiocephaly), build stability and coordination, as well as improve cognitive development.
All of these benefits help the baby learn to roll, crawl, and improve other movements.
Develops Neck Strength
Neck strength is important for newborns to develop as they are born without the ability to support their head on their own.
Simple positions and exercises, such as tummy time, can help build the necessary muscles.
Babies can practise lifting their head and looking from side to side while in this position.
As they grow and their muscles develop, infants will improve the control over their movements as they look in different directions and build the strength needed to lift their head further off the ground.
Prevent Flat Spots on Baby’s Head
As babies often spend a lot of time on their backs, especially since placing a baby on their back to sleep was found to reduce the chances of SIDS, allowing the baby to have supervised awake playtime on their stomach helps prevent flat spots on the baby’s head.
Flat spots, or Plagiocephaly, creates an asymmetrical shape to the baby’s head from prolonged periods in one position. Tummy time is a great way to prevent this.
Builds Stability and Coordination
With small periods of physical activity each day, babies can stretch, move their legs, push up with their arms, and move their head from side to side.
These simple movements are helping them find balance and coordination.
Motor development is imperative for a baby to be able to explore and learn, as well as refine other necessary skills.
Improves Cognitive Development
When a baby can lift their head to look around, sit on their own, and look at the objects that they hold, they are increasing their knowledge of the world around them.
Their perception of their environment evolves the more they have the chance to explore it.
What Age Baby Should Do Tummy Time?
It’s best to check with your doctor to understand when is the best time to begin tummy time exercises for your baby.
Tummy Time with a Newborn
In the beginning, your newborn may not be able to lift its head much at all.
When doctor-approved, babies can start doing several short periods on their stomach throughout the day so that they can develop their muscles.
Many infants fuss when put into this new position.
Getting down to be eye-level with them, or laying beside them, can help distract them, give them something familiar to listen to, and reassure them.
Tummy Time for a Baby
Babies who have improved their strength can do slightly longer periods and often enjoy playful activities while in this position. You can interact with them, find fun blankets or mats, or exciting toys (listed below).
What Positions are for Tummy Time?
Did you know that your baby doesn’t need to be laying on the ground for it to be considered tummy time?
There are actually several other ways that are beneficial to the baby.
Tummy time can be done on the floor, another firm surface, or even on your chest or lap.
Tummy Time on the Ground
Probably the most well-known position is on the ground. You need to make sure the baby is on a firm, flat surface where they can safely lay down so the ground often makes a good choice.
If you don’t feel comfortable laying them directly on the floor (understandably), stretch out a baby blanket so that they have a softer, cleaner space to lay on. (Just never leave them unattended!)
Mats can make laying down more comfortable and entertaining for your little one. You may want to choose a soft foam mat if your floors are often dirty or perhaps a little too hard.
There are also fantastic activity mats that will stimulate their senses and keep them busy while laying on their stomach.
I’ve even seen water mats (although I haven’t personally tried them).
Whichever one you choose, find a nice spot for your baby to be comfortable while strengthening their developing muscles.
Tummy Time Chest-to-Chest
What should you do if your baby fusses? Well, an alternative to putting them down is to lay the baby on your chest for a cuddly, supported position.
Whether you are lying completely flat or at a slight incline, laying the baby on your chest still counts as tummy time.
If your infant fusses when you place them on their tummy by themselves, chest-to-chest can be a great solution to get the same important physical development in but with the comfort of your body against theirs.
It’s also a great time to chat, sing, or just lovingly stare at your little one.
Turn the dreaded tummy time into an extra special bonding moment for you both.
Propped Up During Tummy Time
You can also try laying them on your lap to look around the room (they may even appreciate a little back massage!).
If you want to have them at a slight incline, put your feet up on an ottoman or sturdy footstool so that they are not completely parallel with the floor.
Propping them up safely is another option for this exercise.
I’ve read about many people using the Boppy breastfeeding pillow to create a bit of an angle so that the baby can see around the room more.
There are also tummy time activity pillows that do a similar thing for slightly older babies.
What are the Best Toys for Tummy Time?
The best solution for a baby who hates laying on their belly is to keep them comforted, entertained, and with their mind off of the position they’re in!
They may even start to enjoy tummy time as a fun activity throughout the day.
Getting down to the baby’s level is a great way for them to see a familiar face and find comfort when doing tummy time. You can also use a mirror in front so that they are interested in the movements of their own reflection.
Interactive toys and toys with different textures and bright colours are the best toys for tummy time as they will keep your little one happy and entertained.
Some fantastic options are:
Penguin Musical Wobbler
Baby Einstein High Contrast with Mirror
Lamaze Clip On Animal
Baby Einstein Activity Play Gym
Additional Tummy Time Tips:
- Don’t put a baby down on their stomach when you’ve just fed them. Chances are the pressure on their belly will make them spit-up. Give them some vertical time after feeding so that they can start to digest and bring up any trapped gas and then try a little later.
- Always supervise.
- Keep everything (except safe age-appropriate baby toys) well out of their reach. As your baby gets stronger they will likely start to propel themselves in different directions and possibly around in circles, reaching out at anything that looks of interest.
- Be mindful of pets when the baby is on the ground. You may feel absolutely confident in the behaviour of your animal, but it’s still a large beast for such a tiny human. Babies are often unsure enough when it comes to propping themselves up on their tummy so don’t add to the discomfort with a roaming animal in the vicinity (unless of course the baby is happy and the animal can provide entertainment at a distance).
- Incorporate tummy time with storytime! What a perfect way to encourage your baby to lift their head, get comfort from your voice, and pass the time with a story or two. Bright and highly contrasted pages are great for their developing eyesight. For ideas on great age-appropriate books, check out this post on Baby Books for the 1st Year.