Tummy time enables your newborn baby to receive several essential developmental benefits as your newborn engages their entire body to lay the foundation of all of their sensorimotor skills for their entire life.
How exactly do you do tummy time? Follow the timeline below and read the tummy time tips. It’s never too late to start tummy time exercises, and to give your baby all the tools they need to reap the tummy time benefits.
Tummy Time Timeline
- From birth to 3 weeks: Tummy time should start the day baby comes home from the hospital, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). A good time to play with your newborn in this position is after a diaper change or nap. Begin by placing your baby on your chest (practice Kangaroo Care), as often as possible and preferably skin to skin while you are laying down. In the first few weeks, try tummy time for 1-2 minutes, 2-3 times a day, at different times of the day. Your newborn can build up to 10-15 minutes a day.
- Around age 3 weeks to 1 month: One to two times daily, hold your baby upright with their belly against your upper chest and their head resting against your shoulder. Gently support your newborn’s neck and head with your hand. As they lift their head they are strengthening their neck and back. This simple exercise allows babies to develop the ability to move their face out of a blanket or mattress in case they accidentally roll to the stomach. When you do place him on his tummy, gently lift his head a tiny bit. Show him how to slowly swing his face to the side. Place safe objects and toys close to your newborn. Move them from side to side in front of her face. This encourages her to move, lift and turn her head.
- At age 2-3 months: It is easier for your newborn if you place your hand under their chest during the tummy exercise. This helps to lift your baby a tiny bit. Always put both of their arms in front to help them start learning how to use their arms to push up.
Tummy Time Tips
- Supervise your newborn during tummy time. Never leave your baby alone. As they get stronger and start moving more, clear away dangerous objects like tables with sharp corners.
- If your baby doesn’t like tummy time on the floor, do tummy time on a rolled-up towel or your lap. You can later transition to the floor.
- Newborn babies have limited strength and poor head control. They tend to cry. Thus some parents fear and avoid it. Begin with brief sessions, a few minutes at a time. The key is to stay consistent. Then gradually increase the time as they grow through tummy time. Prepare to be amazed how quickly your newborn will gain strength and develop their vestibular system. They will improve coordination, sensory, oral and motor skills, all while they build self-confidence.
- Get down on your baby’s level, interact by talking eye-to-eye. Sing songs, stroke their back, and tickle their hands. Engage in facial expressions, smile, and encourage touch. This enables your child to feel safe and secure in tummy time, ultimately enjoying the experience and benefits of learning to move and play.
In your tummy, your baby was curled up in a little ball shape. Tummy time exercises allow your baby to open up and gently elongate the front of their body for optimal newborn development. Tummy time itself does not hurt. However, it is a brand new, stimulating experience for babies to process as they engage their entire body to lay the foundation of all of their sensorimotor skills for their entire life.
Benefits of Tummy Time:
- Tummy time teaches your baby safety techniques. For example, routinely sleeping on their stomach raises a baby’s risk of SIDS about 4 times. However, SIDS risk increases 8-37 times when babies under 4 months sleep on their back and then accidentally roll onto their stomach. Naturally, your baby will flip over during sleep as they age, but the way you can protect them is to provide them with skills learned through doing tummy time exercises. These safety techniques will help them to free their face by arching their back and lifting their head when they do eventually roll over.
- Tummy time promotes visual development through building visual motor skills, binocular vision, two eye coordination, looking upward, and moving eyes side to side independent of head movements. This can influence later activities in life such as copying a teacher’s notes from a whiteboard and following a moving object such as a baseball.
- Tummy time eases tummy function to help reduce gas and reflux, decrease constipation, and encourage bowel movements.
- Tummy time builds motor skills of the arm, hand, neck, and shoulder for rolling over, crawling, and eventually walking. Tummy time also prevents torticollis, abnormal or asymmetrical neck positioning, due to tightness in the neck muscle. Babies may be having trouble with active head and neck movements when they do not turn their head or stare in one area without moving their eyes. Studies show a direct correlation linking thirty waking minutes of consistent tummy time with higher newborn developmental task scores and improved gross motor control of the neck and head when compared to babies who did not practice tummy time exercises.
- Tummy time produces the optimal head shape. Most babies sleep on their backs, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and long periods of time can create pressure on one area of the head. Then when awake, babies are often playing on their backs which reinforces that pressure. A baby’s soft skull molds easily, and this can create a flat spot on that area of the head. Daily tummy time exercises give the baby a break from their back, ensuring a round head and prevents neck troubles and imbalances flat spots can bring due to one side of their head weighing more than the other side.
- Tummy time engages oral function while strengthening throat, tongue, and oral skills for optimal latch and feeding. Without enough exposure to tummy time, baby’s tongue will not function optimally.
- Tummy time facilitates sensory skills and input for hands to mouth and lips, as well as vestibular skills which help the brain register and respond to whether an object they are looking at is moving or if their head is moving, how quickly, and in what direction. It also helps them have balance and equilibrium, equipping them to coordinate both sides of their body together for future activities like catching a ball, riding a bike, cutting with scissors, and zipping a jacket. Tummy time helps the vestibular system to also develop muscle tone for sitting still and upright in a classroom and holding their body parts in-position like when practicing ballet technique.
- Tummy time inspires self-confidence and establishes a connection when your baby is complemented after working so hard. Spending time praising your baby after even thirty seconds of exercises does wonders for your baby’s neurodevelopment. Research has shown that the single most important building block of self-esteem is the responsiveness of the caregivers to the cues of the infant. This means your reactions give meaning and importance to your baby’s impulses.
Tummy Time Methods
A Newborn Care Specialist can help you and your baby through tummy time to reach your baby’s newborn developmental milestones. Learn tips on how to do tummy time here.