When To Start Tummy Time (And What Exactly Is It?)
In this post, we will discover when to start tummy time with your baby, as well as explain what tummy time is and take a look into the scientific research to find out what the benefits of tummy time are.
What is Tummy Time?
Tummy time is simply a term used for when you baby is placed flat on their stomach / chest for a period of time.
It helps your child develop the muscles needed to lift and keep their head up and helps them get ready to learn to crawl.
Related if you’d like to find out when your baby should learn to crawl as well as discover what you can do to help them, then check out this post.
What are the Benefits of Tummy Time?
Babies spend a lot of time on their backs.
In 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all babies be placed on their backs to sleep.
This recommendation resulted in a 40% decrease in incidence of SIDS.
This is obviously amazing, but it does mean that babies, who we all know spend a lot of their time sleeping, end up being on their backs for long periods of time.
This is where tummy time can help!
If your little one spends all their time lying on their back, or sitting in a rocker, they have lots of stimulation easily available to them.
They barely have to turn their head to be able to see something new that catches their interest. And if your rocker has toys attached (I know ours did) then they barely have to move to be able to play with something.
Because of this, they’ll have less motivation to move around to find something new to entertain them.
On the other hand, if your baby gets lots of time on their bellies, they’ll have to start lifting and moving their heads, as well as pushing themselves around to be able to fully take in their surroundings.
This motivation to find new sensory experiences can be a great driving force to entice your baby to start building the muscles they will need to roll over and begin crawling.
Tummy time is brilliant at helping babies to develop head control through strengthening their back and neck muscles as they try to lift their head and look around.
It can also help them to develop a similar strength in their arms and shoulders as they gain more practice and start to reach out for toys, and moving into the press up position.
The development of these muscle groups is essential for your baby to be able to rollover, crawl and start to pull themselves up to a standing position.
When your child reaches for toys during tummy time, they are also developing hand-eye coordination as well as improving their balance and core strength.
Giving your baby tummy time can also help prevent brachycephaly or ‘flat head’.
Brachycephaly can occur if a baby spends too long in the same position. It’s is a condition whereby the the head becomes misshapen or flattened due to the effects of gravity.
This means that if a baby spends a lot of time on their back, with their head against their mattress or other solid surface, the back of their head may become flatter.
A review of 19 papers reported that brachycephaly can cause delays in motor, cognitive and language development.
The researchers therefore recommended that you place your baby in a range of positions while they are awake (such as sitting and carrying) along with regular tummy time to ensure your baby experiences a range of differnt head positions.
Baby’s heads are at their most malleable between 2-4 weeks of age so starting tummy time early can be really important to ensure healthy development.
Which brings us on to…
When to Start Tummy Time?
According to the National Health Service (NHS), you can start doing tummy time from birth with your little one. You don’t even have to wait until their umbilical cord stump has fallen off. As long as they’re placed on something soft they should be fine.
The earlier you start, the more used to tummy time your baby will become.
When your baby is really young, a nice way to get some tummy time in is by lying them on your chest, with you led on your back. They will hopefully enjoy this more as they are not suddenly separated from you and are still warm and comforted.
It’s also a great time for you to share some lovely skin-to-skin time and get in some more cuddles (and who doesn’t love baby cuddles?).
Our little boy didn’t enjoy tummy time very much at first. He’d wiggle and moan and just wanted to be held in a comfortable position.
We had to build up slowly, starting with just a few minutes a session and gradually increasing the amount of time he was led on his front.
This way you can increase tummy time until your baby is doing 40 minutes to an hour a day without it being a shock to your little one.
As your child gets older and more used to tummy time you should try to place your baby on their tummy two to three times a day.
You can definitely do more than this throughout the day though if your baby is alert and enjoying it.
What Can You Do During Tummy Time?
So, we now know the answer to when to start tummy time, but what can we actually do with our babies when they are doing it?
Well firstly, tummy time should be fun!
It should be an enjoyable experience for your baby as well as providing them with the opportunity to experience all the benefits mentioned above.
When they’re on their bellies you want to get their attention and try to encourage them to lift their head up and look around. Here’s a few things you could try:
- Talk to them, make funny sounds or sing to them.
- Call their name.
- Have a rattle, or other instrument, and shake it to encourage them to look around to find out what the sound is.
- Put their favourite toy or teddy in front of them and move it around while making some noise.
- Hold the toy above them to encourage them to start pushing and looking up.
- Place your baby so their head is at the edge of the sofa or bed and get down to your face is near them. Pull some funny faces and try to make them giggle.
- Move from side to side to encourage them to move their head.
- Give them a little massage.
- When their a little older you could place a colourful ball in front of them. They may naturally try and grab or hit it. If it rolls away this can encourage them to stretch out to try and reach it.
- Place a safe mirror or other reflective surface in front of them. Our little boy used to love looking at himself!
- You can place a rolled blanket or cushion under their chest to help elevate them.
- You could also place blankets with different textures under them to increase the sensory experience.
You can also incorporate tummy time into other aspects of your day such as:
- Laying them across your lap with a gentle hand on their back to comfort them.
- Carrying them around with one hand between their legs and under their belly (sometimes known as the rugby hold).
- You may sometimes be able to change their nappy whilst they are on their bellies.
- Or try doing some tummy time when drying them after a bath.
What If My Baby Doesn’t like Tummy Time?
Don’t worry if your little one doesn’t enjoy tummy time straight away! Our little boy used to moan when we first started tummy time.
In fact, a study has also found that 50% of parents reported that their child cried, squirmed or seemed frustrated during tummy time.
So you are not alone!
As mentioned above keep the sessions short at first before slowly increasing their duration.
If you do this, whilst keeping the sessions fun and stimulating, they should gradually begin to enjoy them more.
Following some of the ideas above, such as the use of a favourite toy, has been found to reduce a baby’s negative reactions to being placed on their bellies as well as increase the amount of tummy time they’ll put up with.
A range of studies have also reported that as your baby gets older they will naturally begin to enjoy tummy time more and it will become more effective.
So relax and stick with it!
Tummy Time Safety
It’s extremely important that you keep an eye on your baby at all times during tummy time.
Only do it when they are fully alert and awake. Never let them fall asleep on their tummies.
If they start to become tired or look sleepy put them back in their cot on their back to sleep.
Raising a baby is extremely tiring. For that reason, it’s really important that you also only do it when you know you’ll be able to stay awake.
If you think there’s any chance you may fall asleep while your child is on their belly then save tummy time for when you are more awake.
If you’re at all worried about the thought of doing tummy time, not sure exactly how to do it or what to do, I’d advise speaking to your paediatrician or health visitor for advice.
Final Thoughts on When to Start Tummy Time
So the answer to the question ‘when to start tummy time?’ is you can start right away.
The earlier you start tummy time the earlier your child will begin to benefit from it.
To recap, some of the benefits of tummy time are:
- The development of neck, back, shoulder and arm strength.
- Which help with better head control and get your baby ready for crawling.
- Improved hand-eye coordination.
- Increased core strength and better balance.
- And it can help reduce incidences of ‘flat head’.
It’s important to keep the sessions fun and keep them short at the beginning and gradually increase their duration.
Remember, if your baby doesn’t love it straight away that’s natural and you are not alone!
And always make sure that both you and your child are fully awake and alert for tummy time.
I hope that this article was useful for some new parents out there. If you found it interesting, please share using the buttons below!
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If you have any comments about tummy time I’d love to hear them.
Did you do it with your little ones?
How did they get on? Did they love or hate it?
Any tips for new parents out there?
Thanks for reading and,
Let’s nurture those neurons!
References and Further ReadingClick here for references
- Caregivers’ Knowledge, Attitudes, and Implementation of Awake Infant Prone Positioning
- Changing concepts of sudden infant death syndrome: implications for infant sleeping environment and sleep position. American Academy of Pediatrics. Task Force on Infant Sleep Position and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
- Correlates of tummy time in infants aged 0-12 months old: A systematic review
- Effects Of Access To A Stimulating Object On Infant Behavior During Tummy Time
- Effects of sleep position on infant motor development.
- Plagiocephaly and Developmental Delay
- Positioning and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS): update. American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Infant Positioning and SIDS.
- Prevention and Management of Positional Skull Deformities in Infants
- Tummy Time!
- Tummy Time is Important