Tummy Time – supervised short periods when baby is placed on her belly while awake, may seem more like a struggle than a play time.
Why is tummy time so important, and what can you do to encourage the baby’s participation:
- The main goal of tummy time is neck, shoulder and arm strengthening. Help your baby by positioning her arms so she can use her forearms to press against and lift her neck. Even if she just brings her head up for a few seconds then rests it back down, she’s beginning to develop those muscles..
- Propped positions may work better. Many babies who fuss during tummy time on a flat surface do much better in a propped position. Try tightly rolling a blanket or towel into a firm bolster, then position baby in a kneeling position with her tummy right up the bolster, and with arms tucked up at chest level. This way she’ll have some leverage and will use her arm and shoulder muscles to push with, and be able to raise her head. You may need to reposition your baby’s arms often if she tends to bring her arms by her side and “swim”, or slides down the bolster.
- Engage and distract! Tummy time is a partnership activity. Encourage and tempt your baby to lift her head to see what’s going on. Use a favorite board book, toy or puppet to capture her attention and experiment with different locations for tummy time both indoors and out.
- Brief but frequent. Instead of thinking of tummy time as a daily 15 minutes to endure, place your awake baby on her tummy for shorter sessions throughout the day, and don’t let baby get too distressed. Just like going to the gym, it’s the frequent exercise that begins to build muscle strength, which makes tummy time sessions much easier for your baby, and therefore, for you!
- Watch your baby progress! At one month, expect some brief head lifting or bobbing, at two months, her head may be held up for longer periods. Around three months, expect to see her support herself on bent arms during tummy time and at four to five months, baby may be able to push up higher, keeping shoulders and upper chest off the surface.
Tummy Time FAQs
The 3 month old I care for really seems to hate tummy time. Is it really important that I make him do it?
Yes, Young babies tend to spend most of their time in reclined positions (bassinet, car seat, swing, bouncer seat) which does not encourage muscle development, and puts pressure on the back of the baby’s head, which can lead to flat spots. Vary your charge’s position throughout the day, and keep tummy time one of the positions in regular rotation. Hopefully the tips shared above will help him tolerate the sessions better and as he begins to build more upper body strength, it will become less of a challenge for both of you.
When can we stop doing tummy time? My 5 month old charge immediately flips over. Do I need to flip him back to his belly?
Congratulations! Tummy time doesn’t really go away, it just evolves into “Floor Time”. It sounds like this baby is learning how to maneuver his body and ready to begin to moving around more. Several times a day, set your baby (on his tummy) on a clean and safe floor area where he can work on learning to roll and explore. When he rolls over onto his back, place some interesting toys near him just barely out of reach and soon he will work on inching, scooching or rolling back onto his tummy to explore what’s around him. Because babies tend to pivot or move backwards before they learn to creep forward, you can reduce frustration by putting several toys around him in a circle so whatever direction he ends up in, there’s a reward nearby. Floor time is just as essential as tummy time, and is the best place for baby to develop his gross motor (body movement) and fine motor (hand-eye coordination) skills.
Nancy Holtzman RN IBCLC CPN Nancy has spent the past 20 years supporting expecting and new families around the transition to parenthood. She is a maternal infant specialist, board certified lactation consultant and board certified pediatric nurse. She speaks and writes for a national audience about breastfeeding, infant development and baby sleep.
She is the founder of the Great Beginnings New Mothers Group series which has “graduated” well over 12,000 new moms nationally and as a Clinical Co-Founder of Isis Parenting, her classes and webinars have helped thousands of families across the US and across the globe.
Nancy lives in Boston and San Francisco with her husband and rescued Bichon Frise, and is the mom of two kids in college. Find her tweeting all about babies at @nancyholtzman