If you have a baby in the house or one on the way, you have more than likely heard of “tummy time.”
Tummy Time is a time set aside each day for your infant to lie on their stomach instead of being on their back, in someone’s arms, or in a “container” such as a car seat.
Before 1992, doctors recommended parents put their babies to sleep on their tummies. However, babies are more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) when sleeping on their stomachs.
The Back to Sleep program started in 1992. This program aimed to reduce SIDS incidents by encouraging parents to lay their babies on their backs while asleep. The Back to Sleep program saw a 40% decrease in SIDS, but doctors also began observing slower muscle and motor skill development in these babies, and head-shape abnormalities were also on the rise.
So, doctors began to encourage parents to give their babies tummy time daily.
What is Tummy Time?
Tummy time is a few minutes each day when your infant is placed on their tummies to explore and play with adult supervision. Doctors recommend tummy time for all babies less than six months old. Most doctors recommend 30 minutes for the most tummy time benefits.
What are the Benefits of Tummy Time?
Every baby should spend a few minutes every day on their tummy. Just a few minutes of tummy time daily can help your baby’s development immensely.
Muscle strength and motor skills
One of the most significant tummy time benefits is increased muscle strength and motor skill development. Tummy time helps your newborn develop the strength to hold their head up and control their head movements.
As they grow older and begin to move more, tummy time helps them build arm and shoulder strength and start pushing up, reaching for toys, and pulling themselves forward to explore.
Before you know it, your baby will be rolling, crawling, and walking.
Head deformity prevention
An infant’s skull is soft at birth, and the bones are not completely closed yet. When infants spend most of their time lying on their backs, the pressure can push the bones out of place, leading to deformities such as plagiocephaly (a flattened area on the back of your baby’s head).
Because doctors now recommend babies sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of SIDS, tummy time is essential to balance out the time spent on the back and allow the head shape to form naturally.
If your newborn has torticollis (tight neck muscles), tummy time can help by encouraging the baby to move their head and look around more. Tummy time encourages your baby to stretch their tight muscles.
Some smaller studies have suggested regular tummy time may also:
- increase fine motor skills development.
- improve heart and lung health.
- reduce BMI in older children.
- build stronger bones.
In one study in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, infants who were put into regular tummy times within four weeks of birth were more likely to sleep over ten hours every night by their first birthday. By two years old, these children were also more likely to play outside for more than three hours a day and sit in front of a screen for less than one hour.
How do I give my Baby Safe Tummy Time?
You can begin tummy time a day or two after birth. Begin with 2-3 short 3–5-minute sessions every day. Initially, you can place your baby tummy down on your chest while you are lying down or lay them across your lap.
As your baby grows and their muscles begin to develop, you can increase the time and place them on the ground for tummy time. Gradually build up to about 15-30 minutes daily by the time they are two months old and up to an hour by three months.
Tracking tummy time sessions
You can track your baby’s tummy times using the Baby Daybook app. Baby Daybook lets you schedule and document your baby’s feeding and sleeping times in real time. You can sink the app data between all caregivers to keep track of your baby’s feeding, sleeping, and tummy times, even if you must leave them in someone else’s care.
Tummy Time Tips
Tummy time is a simple way to help your baby develop and is a great time to bond with them. Follow these tummy time tips to keep your baby safe and get the most out of tummy time.
Tips for a safe tummy time
Ensure all caregivers know how to put your baby into a tummy time properly.
- Lay your baby on a blanket on a low surface like the floor so they will not fall off.
- You can place a rolled-up towel under their arms to prop them up but don’t place them on a soft pillow or a stuffed animal.
- Do not put pillows or soft objects like stuffed animals near them. If your baby rolls into these items, they could suffocate.
- Keep sharp or hot objects out of your baby’s reach.
- Place toys they can reach for and interact with nearby. As your baby grows and gets stronger, place the toys further away to encourage your baby to move more and reach for them.
- Never leave your baby alone during a tummy time.
Tips for a fussy baby
At first, some babies get fussy or frustrated during tummy time. Don’t give up. Tummy time benefits are worth the time and effort needed. Give them a few minutes to get used to the new position and activity.
Keep tummy time short at first and gradually increase the time as your baby becomes more used to them. Schedule tummy time when your baby is awake, fed, and changed to decrease fussiness and discomfort. Talk to your baby, sing, make noises, or play with them to distract them.
A properly executed tummy time can have some tremendous benefits for your baby and you. Talk to your pediatrician if you have any questions or concerns about tummy time. Download the Baby Daybook app and start reaping those tummy time benefits.
Buchanan L, Xu H, Hewitt L, Taki S, Wen LM. A Longitudinal Analysis Examining the Associations of Tummy Time With Active Playtime, Screen Time, and Sleep Time. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 2021;18(10):1215-1222. journals.humankinetics.com [Accessed October 2023]
Hewitt L, Kerr E, et al. Tummy Time and Infant Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review. American Academy of Pediatrics. 2020. publications.aap.org [Accessed October 2023]
Kids Health. Tummy time (For parents) – Nemours KidsHealth. kidshealth.org [Accessed October 2023]
Safe to Sleep. Tummy Time for a Healthy Baby. NIH. safetosleep.nichd.nih.gov [Accessed October 2023]