As a new parent, you’ve no doubt been told by your doctor to always put your baby on their back every time they sleep or nap. So you might not realize that it's also important for your little one to spend some time on their 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 their back, they might get a flat spot on their head. That's mostly a cosmetic issue, and one that tends to go away over time. But it might also mean that their head, neck, and shoulder muscles aren't getting enough exercise. Tummy time is the fix.
When your baby is on their belly, they have to look up, left, and right to see people and objects. Moving their head around helps their skull round out, as well as strengthens their neck, shoulders, and trunk. Later on, these muscles will let them 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 their 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 them engaged, put some toys in a small circle around them. As they reache out for different toys, they'll strengthen the muscles they'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 their head to admire their 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 them to get down on the floor and play with their little brother or sister (while an adult is supervising).
6. Work it into other activities. Put your baby on their tummy while you dry them after a bath, smooth on lotion, or burp them (across your lap).
7. Sing or tell a story. They'll raise their head and move around when they hear 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 their arms forward and over the roll. Be careful to keep their chin, mouth, and nose away from the bolster.