As a new parent, you’ve no doubt been told by your doctor to always put your baby on his back every time he sleeps or naps. So you might not realize that it's also important for your little one to spend some time on his belly while wide awake.
"Tummy time is when your infant lays on his (or) her stomach while supervised," says Wendy Wallace, DO, a pediatrician at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Care Network.
If your baby is always on his back, he might get a flat spot on his head. That's mostly a cosmetic issue, and one that tends to go away over time. But it might also mean that his head, neck, and shoulder muscles aren't getting enough exercise. Tummy time is the fix.
When your baby is on his belly, he has to look up, left, and right to see people and objects. Moving his head around helps his skull round out, as well as strengthens his neck, shoulders, and trunk. Later on, these muscles will let him sit up. Eye muscles also get stronger as your little one looks around during tummy time.
How to Do It
Keep it simple: Put a clean blanket or mat on the floor and place your baby on his stomach. For safety’s sake, you should only do this while your baby is awake and you or another responsible caregiver keeps close watch.
"Tummy time is a great time to play and interact with Baby," says Leann Kridelbaugh, MD, a pediatrician at Children's Medical Center of Dallas. She says you can begin this practice as soon as your newborn comes home from the hospital. At first, aim for very brief (3- to 5-minute) sessions two or three times a day. As your child gets bigger and stronger you can slowly work your way up to 40 to 60 minutes of tummy time daily.
To keep him engaged, put some toys in a small circle around him. As he reaches out for different toys, he'll strengthen the muscles he'll one day use to roll over, scoot around, and crawl.
Help! My Baby Hates Tummy Time!
Some tots seem to love playing on their tummies. Others might act like they can’t stand it. Keep trying! There are many things you can do to help your baby get comfortable and even have fun in this position.
1. Go slow. Some infants will only tolerate a few minutes of tummy time in the beginning. That's perfectly normal.
2. Move to his level. "Tummy time can initially be scary because it's new," Wallace says. "Getting down on the ground and doing face-to-face encouragement will reassure a baby that he can do it and it's OK."
3. Use plastic mirrors. Your baby will probably lift his head to admire his reflection.
4. Put the baby on your tummy or chest. Newborns love to lay on a parent and gaze up at their face, Wallace says.
5. Involve a sibling. If you have an older child, encourage him to get down on the floor and play with his little brother or sister (while an adult is supervising).
6. Work it into other activities. Put your baby on his tummy while you dry him after a bath, smooth on lotion, or burp him (across your lap).
7. Sing or tell a story. He'll raise his head and move around when he hears your voice. Remember to make eye contact, too.
8. Offer extra support. Make a bolster out of a thin towel or blanket. Roll it up, put it under your baby's chest, and stretch his arms forward and over the roll. Be careful to keep his chin, mouth, and nose away from the bolster.