New Baby? What You Need to Know About Tummy Time

Photo by Kelly Knox / Stocksy United / 1176162
Photo by Kelly Knox / Stocky United

Today, most parents know that placing babies on their backs to sleep in their first year is the safest position—and, thankfully, most parents are also complying with Safe Sleep guidelines. That’s a good thing: Since the early 1990s, the rate of SIDS in the United States has dropped by nearly 70 percent.

But while the back is best for sleeping, babies need to spend some alert, wakeful time each day on their bellies, too. Called tummy time, this practice is important for developing strong neck, arm, and tummy muscles—just what infants will need to roll over, crawl, pull themselves up, and walk. Tummy time also is an antidote to flat spots that can form on some babies’ heads when they spend a little too much time in car seats, carriers, strollers, and on their backs.

Tummy time has another benefit: Infants love connecting with their parents, so when you’re right down on the floor with your beautiful baby, tummy time can be a great way to strengthen your bond as she strives and thrives to reach her first big physical milestones. We've got the answers to five common questions about tummy time right here to get you going.

1. Does tummy time really matter?

Yes! Muscle development is vital, because it’s the precursor to movement milestones like crawling, rolling, scooting, sitting up, and walking—and tummy time gives him the chance to work on it all.

2. How long should tummy time last?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, tummy time for most babies should start from birth, beginning with a few short stretches of three to five minutes two to three times every day. As your baby grows, she’ll need more and more tummy time to build up her muscle strength. To get in the habit, you might consider tying it to an activity you do a few times a day, like after a diaper change, bath, or nap.

3. What are the safest practices for tummy time?

Make sure your baby is alert, awake, and that you watch him throughout each session to make sure he doesn’t fall asleep on his tummy. Also important: Don’t use Boppy® pillows or other props that can slip around or present a suffocation hazard. With young infants, tummy time is often best spent on your own body, tummy-to-chest, so you can stay with your baby the whole time (and stare into his beautiful eyes!). As he grows, start giving him more tummy time on the floor.

4. What do I do if my baby hates it?

First of all, know that you’re not alone—many babies cry or show discomfort during tummy time. Try enlisting the help of your baby’s favorite toys by placing them just in front of her to distract her, or use a baby-safe mirror to give her something fun to look at and encourage her to lift her head up. If it’s still a crying session every time, the AAP recommends these three activities to help ease her into the practice.

5. When can I stop tummy time?

Once your baby can roll over front-to-back and back-to-front (around six months) and spends time on his stomach on his own, you can cut back on your tummy time routine—but still keep encouraging your future mover to spend plenty of time playing and exploring his world!

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