The Important Benefits of Tummy Time for Your Newborn

Tummy time is the intentional practice of placing your baby on their tummy for brief periods while you are with them and they are awake. Tummy time is important for babies to develop strength and promote motor skills. It can also help to prevent flat spots on the head.

This article explains what tummy time is, why it's so important, and how to start practicing it with your baby. 

Baby on stomach pushing themselves up

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What Exactly Is Tummy Time?

Tummy time refers to the practice of placing your baby on their tummy, in the prone position, to help them develop strength and motor skills (an action that uses your muscles). Because it's safest for babies to sleep on their backs, tummy time gives them a chance to try a new position.

Developmental Benefits 

Tummy time is important because it has several benefits. Lying in the prone position and pushing up strengthens a baby’s muscles in their neck, shoulders, arms, and back. It also helps to prevent flat spots on the back of the head. 

Tummy time has been proven to help with early movement skills like lifting the head off of the ground, moving the arms and legs, reaching while lying down, and sitting with arm support. Babies who practice tummy time also achieve more advanced skills earlier. These skills include rolling, sitting unsupported, and walking. 

Tummy Time Positions by Age 

Depending on your baby’s age, there are different tummy time positions that you can try together. 

Newborn

Your baby can start tummy time as early as the newborn stage. For new babies, try laying them on their tummy across your lap so that they are close to you. You can also try tummy time on your chest. Lie down on the ground and place your baby directly on your chest. Then talk to your little one as they attempt to raise their head to look at you.

1-3 Months

Babies between 1 and 3 months can also practice tummy time on your lap or chest. You could also move them to the floor. Place a soft blanket down on the floor and have your baby lie on their tummy. Make sure the blanket lies flat and is not too fluffy. 

No matter what position you try with your little one, only practice tummy time when you are with them and they are fully awake. A good time to try is after your baby has had a diaper change. 

4 Months and Up 

As your little one gets older, you can start to make tummy time more fun. Lay them down on a blanket on the floor and try placing a favorite toy in front of them. This will encourage them to look up and reach. As your baby becomes more mobile, place different toys around them to encourage them to turn and start to scoot. 

It is important to only practice tummy time on the floor, as opposed to the couch or a bed where your baby could roll off. 

Risks of Not Getting Enough Tummy Time 

Tummy time is an important tool for your little one’s development. Babies who do not regularly practice tummy time are slower to reach physical milestones like sitting and rolling than babies who do. They may also be slower to develop communication skills.

Regular tummy time helps to prevent positional plagiocephaly, a flattening of the back of the head caused by lying in the same position. Without tummy time, your baby may require physical or occupational therapy to strengthen muscles and reach milestones. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends that all babies sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Never practice tummy time at night or when your baby is asleep or very tired. 

How Long and How Often 

Your baby may not enjoy tummy time at first. This is normal and expected, so ease into this practice with short sessions. Aim to start with having your baby practice tummy time for three minutes about twice per day. As your baby tolerates tummy time better, you can increase the time to five minutes and start practicing more frequently throughout the day. 

By the time your little one is 3 months old, aim to practice tummy time every day for several short sessions totaling an hour. Always stay with your baby during tummy time. If they become fussy or upset, try talking, singing, and making eye contact to soothe them. 

Positions to Try 

Newborns and young babies can practice tummy time lying on your lap or chest. As your baby gets older, place a blanket on the floor for them.

Try incorporating your child’s favorite toy to encourage them to lift their head, reach their arms, and roll. If your child has older siblings, involve them by having them practice tummy time next to your baby. This could help to keep your baby engaged.

Summary

Tummy time is the practice of placing your baby on their tummy to help them to develop strength and reach milestones. Only practice tummy time when your baby is awake and a caregiver is with them. 

Benefits of tummy time include muscle strengthening, reaching milestones earlier, and preventing positional plagiocephaly. Start with a three-minute session and work up from there as your baby tolerates it. 

A Word from Verywell 

It may feel wrong or unnatural to place your newborn down on their tummy, especially if they become fussy during tummy time. Remember that this is an important practice for their overall development. You can help your baby learn to enjoy tummy time by talking or singing to them during it. As they get older, you may want to bring in some of their favorite toys. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Should you pick your baby up if they cry during tummy time?

    Your baby may not enjoy tummy time at first. This is normal. If they start to become fussy, try singing or talking to them. Try placing your baby on their tummy for a short period and build up from there. 

  • When is it okay to stop tummy time?

    Talk with your healthcare provider or pediatrician about when your baby is ready to be done with tummy time. Most babies no longer need it by 6 or 7 months of age. 

  • Have doctors always recommended tummy time?

    Doctors have not always recommended tummy time. In 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended placing infants on their backs to sleep. This was an important recommendation because it decreased the number of infant deaths due to SIDS. However, the downside was that infants seemed slower to reach milestones. To help babies develop strength and motor skills, pediatricians recommended trying tummy time while infants are awake.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. American Occupational Therapy Association. Establish tummy time routines to enhance your baby’s development.

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