You know “Back is Best” for your baby’s sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends newborns be placed on their backs every time they’re ready to doze off. But did you know placing babies on their stomachs is perfect for play? Tummy time helps your baby develop the strength he or she will need to eventually slide around, shimmy and crawl — and it also helps your baby’s head keep its rounded shape.
The importance of tummy time
Finding the time to do anything when you have a newborn can be challenging, and devices like infant seats and swings can feel like a huge help when you need to safely put your baby down for a moment. But when babies are awake and someone is watching them, placing them on their bellies to play can have big benefits, including:
- Avoiding flat spots (positional plagiocephaly). When babies spend lots of time on their backs or in infant-carrying devices, they can develop flat spots on their skulls that will take time and sometimes therapy to improve.
- Promoting good motor skills development. Time spent on tummies helps babies work their tiny muscles, such as those in their neck, back, belly, arms and hands. They’ll need that strength and coordination as they learn to sit, crawl and play with toys.
Your first tummy time
You can start tummy time the day you bring your newborn home from the hospital. For an easy introduction, settle into your couch in a semi-reclined position. Put your baby on your stomach, with his or her head facing yours. As you gently talk to your baby, he or she will lift their head to try and see you.
This eye-to-eye contact is also a good chance for the two of you to get acquainted with each other’s faces. Your baby might want to check you out as much as you want to gaze at them!
Timing in your routine
The AAP recommends parents play with their newborns on their stomachs two to three times a day, for about three minutes at a time. You can gradually increase that amount of time as your baby grows and becomes stronger over the next few months. Eventually, you’ll want to aim for about an hour a day.
Prime times in your day to try tummy time are after a diaper change or after your baby wakes up from a nap. Placing your baby on his or her belly right after eating might make them uncomfortable, so that might not be the best time to try.
Keep your baby safe
During tummy time, your baby will get a whole new perspective on their surroundings, with lots of new things to look at and take in. To keep your baby safe and comfortable:
- Always keep a close eye on your baby during tummy time and keep other kids or pets at a safe distance.
- If your baby seems uncomfortable, try rolling a small blanket and placing it under his or her chest and arms. Make sure your baby’s airway stays clear.
- If your baby starts to fall asleep, turn them onto their back.
- Place your baby on the floor on a blanket or play mat. Don’t use a couch, bed or other area where they could fall.
Make it a funny time
Your baby might initially resist tummy time (and will let you know!) since it can be hard work learning to prop yourself up. If your baby is struggling, start small with just a minute or two. Helping tummy time become a fun experience will make your baby want to do more. You might try to:
- Lay down with your baby and make funny noises, sing or act silly.
- Place toys nearby to encourage your baby to reach out and explore.
- Prop up a mirror on the floor to encourage your baby to lift his or her head.
Even if your baby doesn’t love tummy time to start, that doesn’t mean they never will. Keep trying and looking for chances to help them learn. Eventually, that time on their tummy will become quality time in their development.
If you have questions about your baby’s development, you can always find more resources to help at Methodist Children’s Hospital.