If you and your partner are expectant parents, you’ve probably heard about tummy time. It’s an important activity for any baby since it helps your little one reach some of their first few milestones.
However, there’s one thing that no one seems to discuss. You know that tummy time is critical for your baby’s development during their first few months, but when can you start? After all, newborns are very small, and they aren’t very mobile. How soon after they are born can they start doing tummy time?
We’re here to help. Becoming a parent is a big step, and there are a lot of things that you need to know and keep track of. We want to help the start of your parenting journey to go smoothly, from pregnancy to the toddler years.
Tummy time helps strengthen your baby’s muscles, so it’s important to start when your baby is ready — but when is that?
Let’s find out.
What Is Tummy Time?
The first thing we need to know is what, exactly, tummy time is. Fortunately, the answer is in the name.
Tummy time is a period of time every day when your baby spends time on their stomach. Newborns tend to spend a lot of time on their back, so tummy time gives them a chance to experience something new.
Some babies are totally fine with spending a few moments a day on their tummies, but other babies might hate it. They’ve already experienced a lot of new things, and they don’t really want to try something else. However, it’s necessary for you and your little one to power through, kind of like exercising.
Why Is Tummy Time Important?
Tummy time is a significant activity for your baby. There are four benefits of tummy time:
- It develops your baby’s motor skills
- It gives you a bonding opportunity
- It helps with sensory development
- It prevents positional plagiocephaly or flat head syndrome
Motor Skill Development
It develops your baby’s motor skills. Although your newborn baby won’t be able to actively do very much during tummy time, it helps your baby’s muscles to develop.
Tummy time strengthens core muscles, back muscles, and neck muscles. These will eventually lead to your baby rolling over and crawling. Some tummy time positions can also strengthen shoulder muscles. Without tummy time, your baby might experience a delay in motor development.
A Chance for Bonding
It gives you a bonding opportunity. Your little one may hate tummy time at first, but as they get older, they’ll be more willing to spend time on their tummy. At that point, they’ll likely start to interact more with the world around them and you.
Even when you start tummy time, it can sometimes help your baby to lie down on your chest. That way, they still have the comfort of being with a parent and the strengthening exercise of tummy time. Plus, tummy time can easily become a great opportunity for bonding when you incorporate playtime into the routine. Some parents even say that tummy time improved their baby’s breastfeeding sessions!
Boosts Sensory Development
It helps with sensory development. Tummy time changes the way your baby has to interact with the world.
The movements they can do on their stomach differ from those they can do on their backs. It gives them a new way to experience the way their legs and arms move and allows them to see the world in a new way.
Helps Ideal Skull Shape Form
It prevents positional plagiocephaly or flat head syndrome. Newborns’ skulls are very soft when they’re born; if they spend too much time on their back, it can actually cause a baby’s head to have a flat spot or flat spots on the back of their skull. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that tummy time gives the back of their head a break so that their skulls will retain their shape.
When Can I Start Tummy Time?
Since tummy time is a major part of your baby’s development, you and your little one can start pretty early. Generally, your family can start as soon as you get home from the hospital — but only after the umbilical cord falls off. If you choose to start early, just make sure you follow your primary healthcare provider’s medical advice.
However, if you and your partner need a day or two to adjust to all of this, especially if you are new parents, that is acceptable. Tummy time is a must, but both parents and baby have been through a lot before they go home, so you all may need some time to rest.
You and your baby should start having tummy time sessions before they are one month old. However, you can start slowly. You don’t want your baby to have one long session of tummy time since it can tire them out and make them even more upset. It’s better to spread it out.
How Often Should We Do Tummy Time?
At first, you may want to do tummy time at least once or twice daily. When your baby starts to get used to it, you can start to do it more often, increasing it to four to five times a day. Once they get older and more mobile, you can place your baby on their tummy to play as well, although they won’t be able to interact much until they have more head control.
If your baby has flat head syndrome or seems to be struggling with their motor skills, it might be helpful to ask your pediatrician for their recommendation. They can advise you on how often your baby will need tummy time based on their age, needs, and development.
How Do I Help My Newborn Have Tummy Time?
Usually, newborn babies hate tummy time. They don’t really have much to do or see yet, except maybe the floor. However, there are a few things that you can do to help make tummy time more enjoyable for your newborn.
If your baby hates tummy time on the ground, you may want to start out by laying them belly-down on your chest or across your lap. As time goes on, you can start to try doing tummy time on the floor. At first, it may help if you model tummy time in front of your baby.
Tummy time might be more fun if you sing to your baby or talk to them, or you can prop them up with a small rolled-up towel. You could also give them a favorite toy.
Eye contact with your baby can help your baby calm down too. They love seeing their parents since you’re what they are most familiar with.
When you lay your baby face down, you will want to turn your baby’s head to the side since they can’t hold their head up or control it very well. Tummy time should always be done when your baby is awake. When your baby sleeps, they should be laid down on their back.
You’ll need a firm surface, so if you aren't doing tummy time on your chest, it’s best to do it on the floor. You can put a blanket or playmat down, but it’s not necessary as long as the floor is clean. Avoid placing your baby on furniture, and you should stay with them for the whole time they are on their tummy.
If you need to go somewhere, you should take your little one with you or lay them in a safe place on their back.
How Long Should Each Session Last?
The length of a tummy time session will depend on your baby and their age. Newborns should start out slowly, with short periods of time. One or two minutes per session should be enough, but if your baby doesn’t like tummy time, you could also start out with 30-second sessions.
As your baby grows older, the time they spend on their tummy should increase. Instead of two minutes, they should be able to play on their tummy for four minutes, and so on. When you take breaks, you can help your baby practice rolling by rolling them onto their back. It can help them get used to the motion, so they can imitate it later.
With time you’ll notice your baby getting stronger. They may even start rolling themselves out of tummy time because they would rather be on their backs. Eventually, your baby will be able to have an hour of tummy time. By the time your baby is four months of age, they should be able to spend 90 minutes a day on their stomach.
Helping Our Little Ones Reach Their Milestones
Tummy time is a big step for your newborn on the path to reaching their developmental milestones. You can start out once you get home from the hospital, but it’s vital to allow your baby some time to adjust, especially if they seem to hate it.
Even if your baby does hate tummy time, there are ways that you can help them find it more enjoyable. Your little one needs you to be there for them so that they can gain motor skills, sensory abilities, and bonding time with their parents. (Don’t forget to take care of your muscles too!)
As your baby’s caregivers, you need to help them do what’s best for them, including tummy time, even though they may be upset. Balancing this with free time is great for your little one, and it can end up being a fun time for you and your baby.