We look at what tummy time is, when to start and why it’s important. We also give you some top tips for tummy time success.
Tummy time is a great way to help your baby to strengthen the muscles they need for sitting, rolling and crawling (Pin et al, 2007). Encouraging them to lie on their tummy also gives them a different view of the world.
Here’s what else tummy time is about and how to do it…
What is tummy time?
Tummy time is, quite simply, all about getting your baby to spend a little bit of time on their tummy.
Why is tummy time important?
Tummy time has plenty of benefits for your baby:
- It’s important for their physical development, helping your baby to strengthen their back, arms and neck muscles.
- Tummy time helps your baby to develop their motor skills and encourages them to roll over.
- Tummy time varies the position your baby lies in, which can also help prevent head flattening (positional plagiocephaly).
(Pin et al, 2007; AAP, 2017; NHS, 2017; Worcestershire Health and Care Trust, 2017)
When do you start tummy time?
You can get your baby to try out tummy time from when they born (AAP, 2017; NHS, 2017; Worcestershire Health and Care Trust, 2017). You will need to be careful though to only give your baby tummy time when you’re both totally awake and they’re under your close watch (AAP, 2017; NHS, 2017).
"You could start off by giving your baby very short stretches of tummy time, maybe up to three to five minutes of tummy time two or three times a day (AAP, 2017)."
But see how they get on with this and trust your instincts, especially if your baby doesn’t like it (Worcestershire Health and Care Trust, 2017). If they’re happy with tummy time, you could try to build it up by a minute every few days (Worcestershire Health and Care Trust, 2017).
If your baby isn’t keen on tummy time, you could just hold them upright, for example by giving them a cuddle. Babies who don’t do tummy time might take a little longer to walk but they’ll still take a normal amount of time to do it (Pin et al, 2007).
How do you do tummy time?
From birth, you could try a few different positions to help them play and wriggle around on their tummy. For a comfy and reassuring position with loads of eye and skin contact, you could lay your baby on your chest while you’re lying on your back (Worcestershire Health and Care Trust, 2017). You could also place your baby across your lap, holding them securely so they don’t squirm away (Worcestershire Health and Care Trust, 2017).
When they’re ready and can lean on their arms, you could see how they are with tummy time on the floor. Try this using a rolled up towel under their chest and armpits so they can lift their head more easily (NHS, 2017; Worcestershire Health and Care Trust, 2017).
Once they’re four months old and can prop themselves up fully through their arms, they might not need the towel support for tummy time on the floor. This position is great for play and reaching for toys can help your baby to get stronger (Worcestershire Health and Care Trust, 2017).
After they’re six months old, you could have even more fun with them by playing ‘Superman’. That’s where you hold them under their arms and gently lift them up so they stretch into the flying superhero’s pose (Worcestershire Health and Care Trust, 2017).
Top tips for tummy time:
Stay with your baby
You need to supervise your baby during tummy time. Only get them to try out tummy time when you’re both on the ball and you're watching them closely (NHS, 2017).
Little and often
It’s a good idea to start your baby’s tummy time with a little and often approach (NHS, 2017).
Try very short periods of time, possibly even a minute or two at a time, to start with. Nappy changes or when they wake up could give you a good opportunity to try tummy time (AAP, 2017).
Increase stamina slowly
It will take time for your little one to develop confidence and strengthen their muscles during tummy time (Worcestershire Health and Care Trust, 2017).
Trust your instincts as some babies won’t like being on their tummy at first – try holding them upright instead if so. For babies that are ok on their tummies, you could help them to play and encourage them when they’re on their belly so they start enjoying it more. You can then increase their tummy time when they show they’re enjoying it – see what works (AAP, 2017). They will soon get the hang of it.
Tummy to tummy
Try lying on your back, tummy to tummy with your baby, smiling, talking or singing softly to them (Worcestershire Health and Care Trust, 2017). Dads or partners can get involved with this too. Skin-to-skin tummy time can be a good bonding experience.
The eye and body contact will be comforting and reassuring for your little one. You might find they stay engaged with tummy time for a bit longer this way (Worcestershire Health and Care Trust, 2017).
Tummy time fun
Try to turn tummy time into playtime (NHS, 2017; Worcestershire Health and Care Trust, 2017). You can buy baby tummy time play mats to help make tummy time more fun for your baby.
Otherwise, lie your little one on a soft blanket and put some playthings out for them. You could put brightly coloured books, toys or a baby mirror nearby for them to look at and reach out to.
This page was last reviewed in October 2017.
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AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics). (2017) Back to sleep, tummy to play. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep/Pages/Back-to-Sleep-Tummy-to-Play.aspx [Accessed 1st October 2017].
NHS. (2017) How to keep your baby or toddler active. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/keeping-kids-active/ [Accessed 1st October 2017].
Pin T, Eldridge B, Galea MP. (2007) A review of the effects of sleep position, play position, and equipment use on motor development in infants. Dev Med Child Neurol. 49(11):858-867. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1469-8749.2007.00858.x [Accessed 1st October 2017].
Worcestershire Health and Care Trust. (2017) Tummy time play. Available at: http://www.hacw.nhs.uk/our-services/childrens-community-health-services/paediatric-physiotherapy/information-leaflets-and-care-pathways/parent-leaflets/ [Accessed 1st October 2017].