Tummy time is an important way to help your baby strengthen their large muscles and learn to raise their head and body with their arms to look around. That’s a big accomplishment for a baby, and it sets the stage for even bigger milestones to come.
“We want to make sure babies have some tummy time and learn to tolerate being on their tummies,” said DeAnn Davies, the director for early childhood and pediatric psychology at Summit Healthcare. “From there they move into sitting up, then getting from their bottom to their hands and knees for crawling, then up along the chain of development to pulling themselves up to stand. And that leads to walking, which leads to running and climbing and jumping.”
But tummy time can be a source of frustration. Parents are told that tummy time is important, “but no one really stops to tell them how to do it in a successful way,” explained Davies. Some babies get fussy during tummy time, and that can cause their parents to give up on it.
TUMMY TIME TIPS
To help make tummy time easier and help your baby grow and develop in their first year, try these expert tummy time tips. And as always, check with your doctor or health care provider if you have questions or concerns.
Offer tummy time on a clean, flat surface, out of the way of foot traffic, and stay close at all times. And remember that tummy time is only for awake time. Always put your baby to sleep on their back.
Find the right time.
Timing is important. For best results, try tummy time when your child is in good, playful mood. And for safety, your baby should always be awake and alert for tummy time.
Get in the game.
Most importantly, keep in mind that tummy time is a shared activity. Your direct supervision is vital for safety, and your active participation is the key to success. Offer lots of encouragement with your words and expressions.
“Get down on the floor with them,” advised Davies. “Look at them face-to-face so they can lift their head, because they do want to see you. Say to them, ‘This is fun! You can do it, you can do it! Come on, lift your head! There you go, there you go!’”
“And then, when they lift their head, and they’ve worked so hard to do that, reward that by rolling them over on their back and giving them a little break.”
"Back to Sleep, Tummy to Play" from the American Academy of Pediatrics
Give them a break.
“If they fuss, you can also turn them on their back and let them take a little break,” said Davies. “And narrate that for them. Tell them, ‘Oh, it looks like you’re not having a good time.’ Let them recover for a few seconds, and put them back on their tummy. And do it again.”
Try the three strikes rule.
If your baby still gets upset on your third try, pick them up, comfort them and try again at another time. And as always, reward them with lots of praise for trying.
Take a longer break if needed.
“Young babies have memory,” said Davies. “They know when something is stressing their body, and they quickly develop an aversion to it. They don’t want to do it anymore. So if you get off on the wrong foot with tummy time, give the baby a break for maybe a week.” Then, try it again, keeping these tummy time tips in mind. “Eventually they will work in to enjoying tummy time.”
“The smallest moments can build to the greatest successes.”
The amount of tummy time to provide depends on the age of the child and how much they’ll tolerate. Take it slow at first, trying for just a minute or two with a very young baby. Gradually increase the time as your baby gets older. You know your baby better than anyone.
“It’s not prescribed,” said Davies. “It’s not, ‘Do tummy time three times a day for 20 minutes each time.’ That’s not a realistic expectation for an infant.”
And tummy time doesn’t have to be on the floor. “You can hold them at your shoulder,” said Davies. “You can put them across your lap. There are lots of other ways.”
Stay with it.
Your participation, conversation and encouragement are key to being successful with tummy time. Keep at it, keep it fun and celebrate your child’s accomplishments. You’ll be amazed at how quickly they develop in their first year.
“The smallest moments can build to the greatest successes,” said Davies.