August 23, 2023
Tummy Time—Everything You Need To Know

By Sharon Mazel

Wondering why tummy time is all the rage when it comes to babies? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is tummy time?

Simply put, it’s giving your baby time during play to be on his or her tummy.

Why is tummy time talked about so much these days?

In the mid-1990s, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) began recommending that babies sleep on their backs instead of their tummies. This was to reduce the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), which was found to be more common among babies who slept on theit bellies. Since the safe sleep recommendations were issued, the numbers of preventable sleep-related infant deaths plummeted.

But around the same time, experts started to notice an uptick in the number of babies with flat head syndrome. Babies also started to be delayed in rolling over and crawling because they were spending both their waking and sleeping times on their backs, and spending little time on their stomachs. So in 2003, the AAP advised that babies get supervised time on their tummy every day.

What are the benefits of tummy time?

Tummy time during play gives babies the chance to strengthen their upper body, arm, and back muscles that they’re not working on when they sleep on their backs. This supervised belly time also helps to prevent babies’ heads from flattening or misshaping from too much pressure in the same position all day and night.

Belly-down time also ensures that babies aren’t delayed when it comes to rolling over and crawling.

Some studies have shown that babies who reach rolling and crawling milestones sooner also have an edge on cognitive milestones (since babies who “move around” sooner have an earlier opportunity to explore and learn about their surroundings.) But other studies also show that all babies learn motor skills and reach those milestones eventually. What’s more, milestones like sitting and walking don’t happen later in babies who get little tummy time. In other words, while there are certainly meaningful short-term impacts to playing often on the tummy (including prevent flat head syndrome), the jury is still out when it comes to long lasting consequences. So by all means, definitely encourage your baby to spend time on his or her tummy and be sure to schedule some tummy time in each day, but don’t stress about it.

When can I start putting my baby on the tummy?

Your baby can start playing on the tummy as early as his or her first week of life. Your newborn won’t be able to lift his or her head at first, but the sooner you start, the sooner your baby will get used to the tummy position, making tummy time easier as your baby gets older.

How do I start?

Begin with just a few minutes at a time, two to three times a day for the first month. As baby gets older and enjoys time on his or her tummy more, stretch out the sessions. By eight weeks old, your baby should be able to be on the tummy 15 to 30 cumulative per day, and by the time your baby reaches three to four months, he or she should be able to tolerate (and be happy!) being on the tummy for an extended amount of time.

What if my baby hates being on the belly?

Most babies dislike being on the tummy, especially in the beginning. It’s hard for a little baby to lift his or her heavy head and use muscles he or she hasn’t strengthened yet—that’s the whole point of tummy time! So give your baby the opportunity to struggle. Never force a baby who is crying or struggling a lot to stay tummy down, but also don’t give up the second your baby grunts in displeasure. A little frustration or discomfort is okay! In fact, we know that pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone and practicing things that are hard for us is an important life skill—and it’s important for your baby, too. Expect some struggling, but don’t swoop in to fix it immediately. Let your baby work at it for a 30 seconds to a minute or two, and end the tummy session only if your baby is extremely miserable.

Remember, it may take a while for your baby to love the idea of tummy time. Start slowly and work towards a few minutes at a time, a few times a day. By four to five months old, babies should be on their tummies for 40 to 60 minutes cumulatively a day.

What if my baby spits up every time I put him on his tummy?

It’s not unusual for babies to spit up when on their tummies… especially if it’s after a feeding. Try to wait at least 20 minutes after a feeding before you place your baby tummy down to give him or her time to digest. That said, some babies are just prolific spitters and they spit up even hours after a feeding, so it might inevitably happen during tummy time. There’s no need to worry about the spitting, as long as baby is happy and gaining weight.

If your baby has diagnosed reflux, being on the stomach may be a little more uncomfortable. Wait to put your baby tummy down until after he or she’s been upright for 30 minutes. You can also do elevated tummy sessions on your chest or on a yoga ball (more about that below).

What about other positions?

Other positions—such as side-lying—are also important. In fact, all floor time is important—including back time. So be sure to place your baby on the floor in a variety of positions throughout the day.

When do I stop with tummy time?

Once your baby can roll over from front to back and back to front, and can put him- or herself into the stomach-down position on his or her own, you don’t have to be as intentional with a tummy time routine. That said, you still want to encourage your baby to spend plenty of time playing on the floor, including in the tummy down position to boost crawling skills.

What should I do if my baby is starting to sit up and refuses tummy time?

The idea behind tummy time is to help your baby gain upper body and core strength. Once your baby is able to sit up, it already means that he or she has a good start on that upper body strength. Tummy time will be much less important once your baby can sit. That said, you still want to let your baby experience belly-down time when possible (without forcing) so that he or she can learn how to crawl. Giving your baby plenty of free playtime and opportunity to get into lots of different positions will be helpful at all ages.

Tummy Time Milestones

What are some milestones to look forward to when it comes to tummy time?

  • One month: At one month your baby will be able to turn the head and attempt to lift up the head in the tummy down position.
  • Two months: At two months your baby should be able to tilt his or her head in both directions and be able to spend at least a minute in tummy time without getting upset.
  • Three months: At three months your baby will be able to lift the head 45 to 90 degrees without tilting his or her head to one side. Your little one will also begin to bear weight on the arms.
  • Four months: At four months your baby should be able to lift his or her head to 90 degrees, keep the head center, push up on the forearms, and track toys, faces, and voices with a tilt of the head.
  • Five months: At five months your baby may be able to push up on both hands with straight elbows and start to reach for nearby toys.
  • Six months: At six months your little one will be able to reach for toys in tummy time, pivot in a circle while on the tummy, and roll from tummy to back and back to tummy. By now your baby will also likely be sitting and will therefore spend less time on the tummy. But don’t abandon tummy time completely. Belly time will still be helpful as your baby progresses to crawling.

How to make tummy time more fun for baby

Wondering how to make belly time more enjoyable for your little one? Here are some ideas:

  • Use a playmat and rotate toys that baby can look at and reach toward.
  • Lay down on your tummy across from baby. Have a conversation, or make funny faces or noises to entertain your cutie.
  • Put baby on his or her tummy on an exercise ball.
  • Use different textured baby mats for new sensory sensations, a fluffy soft blanket one day, a crinkly one the next, a colorful one the next.
  • Try to entice baby with a mirror or a special toy to look at while in tummy time.
  • Put baby on your tummy while you are propped up.
  • Place a rolled blanket under baby’s shoulders or chest during tummy time for a new perspective (and an extra lift). An inclined pillow can also work (see below for suggestions).
  • Put your baby on the tummy during diaper changes for a new perspective.
  • Try massaging baby when he or she’s on the tummy.
  • Position baby across your lap tummy down.
  • Carry your baby tummy down in a football hold.
  • Lean back while holding baby so he or she could work those head and back muscles.

Looking for more information about tummy time? My book Bite-Sized Parenting: Your Baby’s First Year covers it all! Get your copy today!

For even more tips check out my Tummy Time Highlights on my Instagram page. And be sure to subscribe to my newsletter for even more parenting information, tips, and strategies.

Tummy Time Products

Skip Hop Tree Top Friends Baby Gym

A play gym is a must have for babies and this one is a cute and entertaining option for your little one. This oversized round mat is adorned with nature-inspired graphics and is filled with many sensory activities and toys. The play gym also includes a supportive tummy time pillow to help baby strengthen neck and head muscles—and has different activities on and above the mat to keep baby entertained in all different positions (belly, back, or side!)

Sassy Stages STEM Developmental Play Gym

This is another amazing play gym option for baby. This play gym has six developmental zones and 12 different toys for baby to play with and explore. The toys, a mirror, crinkles, peek-a-boos, rattles, squeakers, and safe ribbons are all detachable so baby can play on or off the mat. The mat also has extra padding that helps support baby during tummy time. The subtle color splashes in addition to all the black and white items are perfect for newborns to older babies.

The Lovevery Play Gym

Love this play gym from Lovevery! The five developmental zones and activity foster exploration and growth during belly time. And the four detachable activity toys and four sets of cards allows this play gym to grow with your baby.

Fisher-Price Deluxe Kick ‘n Play Piano Gym

I love products that can be used in many different ways and this is one of them! This mat has a toy bar and loops on the brightly colored mat that can hold toys in place as baby practices tummy time. And then there’s a piano for baby’s little toes or hands to reach for and play. Watch as your baby discovers all this mat has to offer and turns into a mini composer through exploration and play. This is a product that grows with baby.

Boppy Tummy Time Prop Pillow

Boppy pillows are a staple when you have a new baby, and this tummy time version is no different! It has the same beloved Boppy shape but in a smaller size that’s perfect for your little one to be propped up during tummy time. This pillow has toys that can be detached if you want to change them up for your baby’s entertainment and is also machine washable, because, let’s face it, spit happens! The pillow is great to help strengthen your little one’s head, neck, and shoulder muscles while also improving motor skills as he or she grabs for and plays with the included toys. (Reminder: Never use a boppy or similar item for sleep time!)

Early Learning Centre Blossom Farm Martha Moo Tummy Time Roller

This pillow has a unique design that helps prop up baby during tummy time. It also boasts bright colors, varied textures, and sweet sounds that capture baby’s attention. Activities such as a mirror, a chime ball, and teether helps make playtime fun for your little one.

Infantino Prop-A-Pillar Tummy Time & Seated Support

This adorable 2-in-1 pillow grows with baby from tummy time to sitting practice. Unravel and extend the cute caterpillar for tummy time support and watch your baby explore the colors and detachable crinkle toy as he or she strengthens those head and neck muscles. When their tummy time practice days are over, wrap the caterpillar up to create a cushioned chair that helps support babies during their newest skill practice, sitting!

Fisher-Price Grow-With-Me Tummy Time Llama

No tummy time drama with this cute little llama! This toy has 13 different sensory discovery sections to excite your little one’s senses and help develop motor skills. There are also three detachable take-along toys to throw in your diaper bag as you travel. The llama is a plush wedge that helps baby lie comfortably on the back, work on tummy time, and practice sitting up (when that time comes), making it a great product that grows with baby.

Taf Toys Baby Tummy Time Pillow

This super soft pillow has a unique ergonomic design that provides support to baby’s chest while still allowing arm movement. This design helps to keep baby on the tummy until s/he is strong enough to lift the head and neck without assistance. This pillow also has a detachable teether rattle that gives baby a toy to reach for and play with while in tummy time.

Cons: The pillow is soft and may flattens over time. Luckily, it’ll only be used for the first few months anyway.

Black, White, & Red, Smile, Baby 2-in-1 Crib & Floor Mirror

This is a great multipurpose mirror that attaches to the crib easily but also stands upright freely on the floor for amazing tummy time play. This mirror is also reversible and has black and white graphics on the other side that will give baby something new to look at (other than their cute little face!) and an opportunity to explore new images. It’s easy to transport from room to room (or new places) for tummy time practice in different locations.

Sassy Tummy Time Floor Mirror

This is a super simple and sweet product to add to your baby toy collection. This small mirror is a great way to get babies to enjoy tummy time because they get to be entertained by their favorite thing—themselves! Play a little game of “who is that baby in the mirror” while your cutie explores the two attached toys, a rotating bumble bee and a spinning ladybug. The mirror has an easel back, making it easy to stand up straight when in use but also folds flat for easy travel or to put away when not in use.

Baby Einstein Glow & Discover Light Bar Activity Station

This is another great toy that grows with your little one. This interactive toy bar props upright or collapses making it perfect for tummy time. It has three modes: animals, colors, and xylophone—and also works in three languages English, Spanish, or French, making it a perfect fit for so many families. With the press of a little finger, babies can be entertained by lights, colors, and sounds that help develop listening skills while engaging your little one’s mind.

Splashin’kids Inflatable Tummy Time Premium Water Mat

This mat will let your cutie “play with water” right in your living room! This is an easy to inflate and fill tummy time mat that has bright sea creatures that float as baby pushes them through the water. This mat helps to develop solid head, neck, and shoulder muscles as well as enhances hand-eye coordination and social and motor skills. It’s also easy to transport.

Cons: There may be a strong smell for a few days after opening the package (don’t worry… it goes away). Be sure to dry the mat completely so that mold doesn’t grow inside the mat.

Infantino Wee Wild Ones Pat & Play Water Mat

This extra-large water mat is great for tummy time and sensory play! The adorable whale shaped mat gives your little one the under the sea experience while staying dry on land. It’s home to six floating sea pals and can enhance head, neck, and shoulder muscles.

Cons: Make sure to keep a watchful eye as baby uses this mat in case it leaks (it sometimes happens!). And though it’s hard to dry inside, do your best so that mold doesn’t grow in it.

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