Are You Doing Tummy Time Correctly With Your Baby?

By: Kim Hrapchak, PT, MSPT

Do you dread tummy time? If your baby starts fussing the moment they’re belly-down, you might be tempted to cut it short, or skip it altogether. Stay strong! Tummy time is a really important exercise for your baby.

Connecticut Children’s pediatric physical therapist Kim Hrapchak, PT, MSPT, explains why, and shares helpful tips.

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What is tummy time?

It just means placing your baby on their stomach while they’re awake, and always under adult supervision. It’s an early, gentle exercise with lots of important benefits. For example, your baby will naturally try to lift their head and upper body and look around, which strengthens their neck and core muscles.

Is tummy time actually necessary for my baby?

Yes! Tummy time helps your baby develop their muscles, bones and nervous system. They need it to reach lots of motor milestones, like rolling, pulling themselves up and crawling.

  • Helps improve your baby’s head and neck control
  • Strengthens your baby’s back, shoulder and core muscles
  • Helps develop hand-eye coordination
  • Helps decrease the chance of developing a flat spot on the back of their head

> Related: How to Calm a Crying Infant (and Yourself)

How young should my baby start doing tummy time?

From day one! Tummy time can start as soon as you bring your baby home from the hospital.

Infant during tummy time

How long should tummy time last?

Start with just a few minutes at a time, a couple times a day. Build up to longer and more frequent sessions.

  • When you first bring your baby home from the hospital, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 2 to 3 tummy time sessions a day for 3 to 5 minutes at a time. That’s a total of about 15 minutes per day.
  • After a few months, research shows that 60 to 90 minutes of tummy time per day is ideal to help prevent early motor delays.

Is it ever too late to start tummy time?

The younger you start your baby, the easier they’ll adjust to being on their stomach. But it’s never too late to start. So even if your baby is already several months old, it’s better to start tummy time now.

> Related: Is Your Baby on Track for Motor Milestones?

When is the best time to do tummy time?

Try to practice when your baby is well rested and in a happy mood, so that it’s a positive experience. For lots of babies, great times include after a diaper change or when they wake up from a nap.

How can I keep my baby safe during tummy time?

Never let your baby sleep on their stomach, even for short naps. Your baby should always be awake for tummy time.

  • Make sure you or another adult stays with them the whole time to make sure they’re awake.
  • If your baby falls asleep during tummy time, put them on their back to sleep in a safe place. When they’re rested, try again.

What happens if my baby doesn’t get enough tummy time?

Babies that don’t get enough tummy time might take longer to develop some motor skills. For example, they might be slower to develop core strength, coordination and balance, and take longer to build related skills like reaching and crawling.

They could also develop a flat spot on the back of their head (a condition called plagiocephaly), caused by babies that spend too much time lying on their backs. You might recognize it from the helmets that babies wear to correct it.

Is there such a thing as too much tummy time?

No. If your baby is awake, they can be on their belly. This position is great for playing, bonding, and helping your baby gain confidence in exploring the world around them.

> Related: Are You Disinfecting Your Baby’s Gear Correctly?

What if my baby needs help lifting their head during tummy time?

At first, you may need to try different ways to modify tummy time until your young infant gets stronger. These may include:

  • Lying on your chest while you are in a semi-reclined position
  • Placing a small towel or blanket rolled up under your baby’s chest to help them lift up
  • Lie your baby on their belly over your lap

What if my baby just doesn’t seem interested or happy during tummy time?

You can play and interact with your baby during tummy time to make it more enjoyable. Try placing yourself, toys or a mirror in front of your baby to encourage them to lift their head up.

Should I be doing anything else to help my baby develop motor skills? How do I know if they’re on track for milestones?

Great question! We share guidance and more advice here.

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