When to Start Tummy Time and How to Do It
Tummy time is an important and exciting time during baby’s early development— but between the fun times and big milestones, tummy time brings a lot of questions. We’re here to help breakdown tummy time for all the moms and dads out there with our guide on when to start tummy time, what to do, and other tummy time tips.
Looking for information on a specific tummy time topic? Click the links to navigate to each section.
- What is Tummy Time?
- When To Start Tummy Time with Baby
- Creating a Safe Space for Tummy Time
- Tummy Time Activities
- What if Baby Hates Tummy Time?
- Tummy Time Milestones
- 1 Month Milestones
- 2 Month Milestones
- 3 Month Milestones
- 4 Month Milestones
- 5 Month Milestones
- 6 Month Milestones
- Beyond 6 Months— What’s Next?
- Other Tummy Time Tips
- Tummy Time Takeaways
What is Tummy Time?
Tummy time is a time to guide your baby to play, learn, and grow by encouraging them to spend a little time on their tummy. Incorporating 10-15 minutes per day and building up from there will help your child gain important strength and motor skills. There are many different activities parents can practice with their infant during tummy time— and as your baby becomes more comfortable, it will become a natural position for them, and help them learn to crawl, stand— and eventually walk.
Benefits of Tummy Time
Newborns spend a lot of time on their backs during their first moments of life— and when they’re not lying down, you’re likely carrying or swaddling your baby. In order to develop strength in their neck, back, and general upper body, there are many benefits of tummy time play with your little one.
Spending some time on their belly will help baby start to recognize and practice movements to get them ready to crawl, stand, and eventually walk. Prepping for these big milestones makes tummy time so important for baby’s development. Not only does tummy time help develop baby’s motor skills, it also helps to prevent creating flat spots on their head from lying down too much. After the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) launched their “Back to Sleep Campaign” in 1994, they cut the Sudden Infant Death Rate (SIDS) rate by nearly half. While they did initiate safe sleeping practices for babies, parents did encounter an unexpected outcome with the appearance of flat spots on infants heads when too much time was spent lying down. This discovery has made tummy time an even more important activity with many benefits for baby. Practicing tummy time with baby also introduces them to new sleeping positions when they’re ready to safely roll over during sleep.
Researchers at Michigan State University have found that babies who have practiced tummy time and even practiced walking motion on a baby treadmill walk about 101 days earlier than babies who don’t. Besides being an important start to baby’s motor skills development, tummy time is also a special time to connect with your little one and spend some nurturing time together.
- Build upper body strength
- Development of motor skills
- Prevent the development of flat spots on baby’s head
- Encourage timely growth
- Expose baby to new sights and textures
- Let them use hand motor skills for holding, reaching, and grabbing
- Foster a sense of independence and taste for learning
- Spending important nurturing time with baby
Now that you know the many benefits of tummy time, it’s time to jump into the details! Let’s discuss when to start tummy time, how to do tummy time, what to do if baby doesn’t like tummy time, and talk about some amazing tummy time activities.
When To Start Tummy Time With Baby
As with many parental guidelines, there’s not really a “one-size-fits-all” timeline for when to start tummy time. Every baby and parent is different and there’s no specific “tummy time age”, so keep this in mind here and throughout baby’s milestones. The American Academy of Pediatrics says parents can start tummy time as early as their first day home from the hospital. Start practicing tummy time 2-3 times each day for about 3-5 minutes each time, and gradually increase tummy time as baby gets stronger and more comfortable. Starting tummy time early can help avoid having baby fuss about tummy time. By the time they are 3 months old, expert Dr. Cindy Gellner says your baby should be working up to about an hour of time on their tummy. Good times to practice tummy time include when baby wakes up from a nap, after a diaper change, or after bath time.
How To Do Tummy Time
There are many different ways you can help baby practice spending time on their tummy. Tummy time doesn’t have to always mean lying down— have some fun with it and mix it up. Changing up positions, scenery and activities is important to keeping baby engaged and interested. Plus, it’s fun for parents too! Try to get both parents involved during tummy time to maximize time and make baby comfortable with tummy time with each parent. Here are some infant tummy time tips to get you started!
Setting up a space in your living room or in baby’s nursery for tummy time is an easy and natural way to get started. When you and baby are first experimenting, place a small, firm pillow supporting their tummy in a “superman” style position with their arms extended out in front of them. Be sure to interact a lot with baby during this time. It’s a new experience and can feel a little bit uncomfortable at first, so making baby feel comfortable and safe is really important to having a successful tummy time practice. If you’re doing floor time, try laying down with baby eye-to-eye. It will be helpful for baby to see your face and make them feel reassured and having fun. Our travel crib features a side access door that works perfectly for tummy time! Lay right next to baby and watch them grow with each moment.
Another great tummy time position is the tummy-to-tummy approach. Try laying down on your back and placing baby tummy-side down on your own stomach or chest. Encourage baby to look around and build neck muscle and upper body strength by moving a toy in front of their face, or having your partner move about the room. Place a mobile above them to encourage baby to look up. Tummy time functions as a mini-workout for your baby, so make sure you mix things up and are moving around plenty to help baby develop their strength and motor skills.
Lie baby across your lap with one knee higher than the other supporting baby’s chest, with one hand baby’s back to let them know you’re there. Gently rub baby’s back to soothe them during tummy time. You can even use some baby oil or natural lotion to make tummy time even better!
Carrying baby upright can end up being uncomfortable for you, and baby— so practicing tummy time with a tummy-down hold is a great thing for both of you! With this technique, use one hand to support baby’s chest with your arm between the legs. Use your other hand to support baby’s head and shoulders, nestling baby close to you. This is an easy way to squeeze in some important tummy time throughout the day and on-the-go. Encourage your partner to practice this carry too so you can make sure baby is getting as much tummy time as possible!
Creating a Safe Space for Tummy Time
Whether you’re having fun with floor time, or practicing tummy time with baby on your lap, creating a safe and comfortable space for baby to play on his tummy is super important. Here are some guidelines for how you can create a safe and fun space for your baby to learn and grow with you.
- Make sure whatever surface you’re playing on is clean and free of small or dangerous objects.
- Set up a comfortable pad if you have one (if not, carpet will supply enough plush).
- Lay down a soft blanket or sheet, but make sure it doesn’t slide around too much as baby moves around.
- Line the space with pillows— this is also a great way to encourage baby to use his strength to climb over pillows when he gets to crawling, and can help baby practice rolling on their own.
- Make it fun! Set out some of baby’s favorite toys, fun things to look at like mobiles or patterns are great.
Tummy Time Activities
Now that you’ve got an ultra cozy space to spend your tummy time, it’s time to get to work! Let’s go over some fun tummy time activities you can practice with baby during their birth to 3 month stage, 3-6 months, and 6 months and beyond.
Birth to 3 months tummy time activities
Build up from 20-30 minutes (or more) during baby’s first three months to get them ready for an hour of tummy time in their third month.
- Tummy-to-Tummy time
- Eye-level smile
- Try singing a lullaby to baby during your tummy-down carry
3 month tummy time activities
By the end of their third month, baby should be able to spend about an hour of time throughout the day on their belly. If you’re not here yet, just be patient and keep working on it!
- Use toys to guide baby’s head to move around and build neck strength.
- Use a rolled up blanket or pillows to adjust baby’s height and encourage motor skills.
6 month tummy time activities
At six months, you’ll really see baby’s strength and motor skills improve. This can make tummy time an even more fun and exciting experience for both of you! Incorporating more toys and different motions will really start to take place in these months.
- Using your hands to support baby under their chest, guide baby up and down while on their belly, like a baby push-up! This will help them practice them gain strength and coordination in their hands and arms to support themselves for short periods. You can even practice baby push-ups in a bassinet if you’ve got a comfortable hold on baby. This can be much more comfortable for parents and a nice change from floor time.
- Practice rolling using toys to encourage baby to roll over and reach for their toys. A small, soft pillow can also be placed next to baby to support them and give them a little leverage as they start to roll.
How Much Tummy Time
Tummy time may vary depending on your baby’s adjustment period and your schedule— but trying for 10-15 minutes per day as they start out, work your way up to 20-30 minutes per day— eventually reaching an hour per day by the time baby is 3 months old. You and baby will feel it out together, just pay attention to those tummy time milestones and see how baby is liking tummy time. Try your best to set up a regular time for tummy time if you can, this will help baby get used to tummy time. In addition, make sure to alternate baby’s position and direction throughout playtime.
If baby is not quite comfortable with tummy time at the start, read on for tips on how to make this transition easier and more fun for both of you!
What if Baby Hates Tummy Time?
Despite its importance, tummy time isn’t always as easy as setting up playtime on a soft blanket and some pillows. Not every baby will enjoy spending time on their tummy— imagine if someone adjusted your position without you expecting it! But even if baby gets fussy, it’s important to continue working on this as it’s so important in your baby’s development. If baby starts crying, try your best to let them work through it and don’t pick them up immediately. And mamas, don’t worry if this is you, it’s totally normal and common for babies to need some adjustment time. Being patient and knowing that every baby is different will help you get through these challenging moments with your little one.
If you feel like you’ve run out of ideas to help baby out during tummy time— we’re here to help! Here are a few tips to help you and baby adjust to tummy time:
Lay down with baby
Baby may be fussy because he’s nervous about being away from mom. Try getting down to baby’s eye level and making silly faces, showing them toys, or even playing a little game of peek-a-boo. Showing baby you’re there by talking and interacting with them will make the process a little easier and a lot less scary.
Practice tummy time with a pillow or blanket
The belly-supporting pillow technique we mentioned earlier is a great way to start out, and can be super helpful if your baby isn’t really loving hanging out tummy-down. Place a soft, but firm pillow supporting baby’s chest and tummy— or use a rolled-up blanket. If you’re using a blanket, start small and increase the size of the roll as baby gets more comfortable spending more time on their belly.
Try tummy time on the bed
Sometimes baby is just not comfy on the floor. You can try practicing tummy time on a bed instead as long as baby is awake and supervised. Note that with a squishier and higher surface, you’ll need to watch baby even more carefully.
Before you go to pick baby up at the sound of their first tummy time cry, wait it out for a moment and try comforting them in other ways. Make sure they know you’re close by talking or singing to them, rubbing their back or head, and maintaining skin-to-skin contact.
Experiment with side-lying
If baby isn’t feeling this whole inverted world view thing at first, try side-lying. This is a great alternative to tummy time and can have similar benefits. Place baby on their side and use a blanket or rolled-up towel to support their side. Both hands should be in front of her, with her legs forward and knees slightly bent. Use a toy to catch baby’s attention and encourage her to turn her head.
Yes, tummy time is important to achieving baby’s developmental milestones, but if they’re just not taking to tummy time, baby (and you) shouldn’t have to be miserable. If your baby is really not feeling it, try your best for 30 minutes a day— alternating between carries and other tummy time positions. Work in other exercises to help build baby’s upper body strength like encouraging their neck to move around when you’re holding them or as they lie down. Use your parental intuition— if you think something’s up, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor.
Tummy Time Milestones
It’s amazing how much you’re seeing baby grow with each new day— and tummy time has a huge impact on baby’s physical development. This means you’ll see some serious milestones as you incorporate this practice into your daily routine. Here are some of the amazing milestones month-by-month you can expect to see as they practice and play on their tummy.
1 Month Milestones
- Baby will begin to turn head during tummy time.
- Baby will start or try to lift their head up for short periods.
- They’ll start to feel comfortable with either cheek down.
2 Month Milestones
- Arms will start to extend further from their body during tummy time.
- Legs will begin to alternate between straightened and bent.
- Baby will start to press their hands down to push their shoulders and chest up slightly.
- Spends about 1 minute on their tummy without fussing— with tummy sessions throughout the day.
3 Month Milestones
- Starts to gain head control with increased movement.
- Can lift head between 45 and 90 degrees.
- Places elbows under or in front of their shoulders for most of tummy time.
- Baby begins to lift shoulders more easily.
4 Month Milestones
- Baby lifts and holds head steady at 90 degrees.
- Uses forearms to lift upper chest.
5 Month Milestones
- Lifts arms and legs from the floor and rocks— like a mini superhero.
- Starts to push up with straightened elbows.
- May start moving hands to reach for toys placed in front of them.
6 Month Milestones
- Increased balance and stability as baby pushes up to lift their chest.
- Baby starts to pivot in a circle during tummy time— toys are key to achieving this move!
- Baby should show signs of more comfort on their belly, and may even prefer it.
- Baby rolls from back to tummy and tummy to back.
- Can reach for toys with at least one arm.
- May be able to lift past their chest when using their arms to push up.
Beyond 6 Months— What’s Next?
Woah! You’ve seen so much growth and movement in these last few months— but tummy time isn’t over just yet! After about 6-7 months of tummy time, baby will likely start to prefer time on their belly, but you may still need to give them a little guidance by continuing to facilitate tummy time. Unrestricted playtime is important to helping baby learn and develop too— but if you’re seeing they still like to spend time on their back, give them a little help by alternating their positions and direction. Once they’re totally comfortable, this will become a natural path for them as they start to crawl, and walk soon!
Other Tummy Time Tips
Now that we’ve talked about why tummy time is important, gone over some tummy time techniques, and what milestones you can expect, let’s go over some other helpful tips to make the most of tummy time!
- Dress baby in slightly loose-fitting, comfy clothes that allow for plenty of movement.
- Alternate which direction you lay baby in when you place them in their crib during bed time. This can encourage them to alternate which way they look out of the crib, helping build neck strength.
- Pick up your baby often! Not only is holding your baby important to connecting with your child, it also limits the time they spend laying down.
- Always place baby on their back during sleep— only practice tummy time when baby is awake and supervised.
Tummy Time Takeaways
The most important thing to remember about tummy time (and parenting in general), is it’s a process. Not all babies or parents are the same, and that’s what makes this world so great. Enjoy these sweet moments with your baby and have fun celebrating each milestone! Have more tummy time tips? Share this post with your favorites!