During tummy time, your baby lays on her belly to play while you supervise. Since your baby sleeps on her back to help prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), she needs to spend some of her awake time on her stomach to develop physically and mentally.
On her tummy, your baby lifts her head, which strengthens her neck and upper back muscles.
Being able to move her head reduces your baby’s risk of SIDS because she can move away from anything smothering her. Strong muscles let your baby roll over, sit, and crawl.
Tummy time also gives your little one a different view of the world.
Babies need to learn how to support their heads when they are still, says Tanya Altmann, MD, a pediatrician in California. “They also need to be able to turn their head in response to what's happening around them and hold their heads steady when they're moved."
Spending time on her stomach also helps your baby's head become round instead of developing flat spots on the back of her head.
When to Start
Tummy time can begin right after birth, says Chris Tolcher, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician in California, or definitely by the time your baby is a month old.
For the first few weeks, you may want to delay tummy time until her umbilical cord stump falls off. As long as your baby is comfortable, though, you can safely let her play on her stomach right away.
You may be surprised to see that “even a newborn can start to turn [her] head side to side," says Laura Jana, MD, a Nebraska pediatrician.
Remember: Never let your baby sleep on her tummy, because even one time increases her risk of SIDS. When you put your baby on her tummy, always place her on a smooth, flat surface with no loose items (toys, blankets, pillows) close to her, which might block her airway, Tolcher says.
How Frequently and for How Long
Some pediatricians suggest having your baby play on her stomach five or 10 minutes a couple times a day. Others say you don't have to worry about a set amount of time. There’s no set guideline.
"I usually recommend starting to offer tummy time at least once per day," says Scott Cohen, MD, FAAP, an attending pediatrician at Cedars Sinai Medical Center. He suggests leaving your baby on her tummy as long as she accepts it -- whether that’s 15 seconds or 15 minutes.
It's time to pick your baby up if she starts crying or fussing.
Some babies initially resist tummy time because they don't have good control and find it hard to lift their heads. But the more practice your baby gets, the better she’ll like it, says Cohen, who is also the author of Eat, Sleep, Poop.