baby laying on stomach tummy time It takes time before a baby can learn to crawl, roll over or push up on their arms while lying on their stomachs — tummy time.

Tummy time is the practice of letting your baby spend time on their stomach.

Why is tummy time so important?

Babies spend a lot of time on their backs, whether they are sleeping, lying in cribs or sitting in swings. More than 20 years ago, pediatricians began to recommend that babies sleep on their backs — a practice that led to the dramatic decrease in cases of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

With all that time on their backs, babies can experience a flattening of the back of the head, known as positional plagiocephaly, so they need to spend time in other positions.

But tummy time does more than give your baby a break from time on their back. It is essential to helping babies build the head, neck, back, arm and chest muscles they need to eventually roll over, sit up and crawl. It also gives babies a new perspective on the world they are growing to understand. Unfortunately for parents, it’s a perspective babies may not like, especially when they are still learning to control their head and neck. 

When to start tummy time

“You can start them on their belly as early as possible. Do it in short bursts for a few minutes throughout the day as tolerated by your baby, usually until they get fussy,” explains Katie K. Lockwood, MD, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Primary Care, South Philadelphia.

Those little bursts of time your baby spends on their belly are like mini workouts. Dr. Lockwood recommends increasing tummy time play gradually over the first several months until your baby is spending 15-20 minutes a day on their belly.

This time will help your baby build the strength they need to reach their next developmental milestone, including early feeding skills, digesting and eliminating food. There is even evidence that tummy time can strengthen a baby’s visual skills, as they practice focusing on things that might be closer to them.

What to do if my baby hates tummy time?

If your baby is resistant to spending time on their belly, Dr. Lockwood recommends the following tips.

When to tummy time: Practice tummy time when your baby is ready to play and seems happy and awake. Consider it a playtime exercise. Avoid doing it when your baby is sleepy or after they’ve just eaten, especially if your baby has trouble with reflux or spitting up.

How to tummy time: Dr. Lockwood recommends getting on your stomach along with your baby during tummy time. Your baby loves to see your face and playing with them during tummy time will keep them happy and focused. Some parents use a mirror, a book, a toy or a rattle for their baby to play with during tummy time.

Where to tummy time: Choose a surface to practice tummy time that is neither too hard nor too squishy (like a bed). Some parents purchase a tummy time mat, but Dr. Lockwood says any surface that has some crinkliness to it and is engaging and supportive will work. 

Safety considerations

Always supervise your baby during tummy time. As your baby gets closer to an age where they are strong enough to roll over, be careful where you place them so they don’t roll off a surface.

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