5 ideas for tummy time
Have you heard the terminology ‘tummy time’?
As a new parent I heard it mentioned that tummy time was important as it encourages the baby to hold their head up, developing their neck muscles. The name seemed self-explanatory – put the baby on their tummy for some time each day.
But once I had my tiny baby at home, questions started to flood in. Do I just set them on their stomach? On what surface? For how long? How will I know if I’m doing it right?
Suddenly, this simple concept seemed much more complicated!
So I did some reading and research and decided to summarise the main points here to help out other new parents like myself. Let me know if you find any of the tips useful!
What is tummy time?
Simply put, it is time that babies spend on their front, or tummy. This can be on a parent or carer, on a cushion or on a flat surface. It should always be supervised.
Why is tummy time important?
Due to the amount of time they sleep (it can be 16-18 hours in total for a newborn), babies can spend a lot of time on their backs so it is recommended that they spend some supervised time on their front when they’re awake. The National Health Service in the U.K. recommends tummy time as it strengthens the back, neck and shoulders. These muscles help the baby to hold up their head, roll over and crawl. Tummy time lays the foundation for future gross motor skills, as well as allowing baby to look around.
Time spent on their tummy can help to avoid babies developing a flat head from lying on their backs so much.
Christie Kiley, an Ocupational Therapist says “bearing weight through the arms and hands during tummy time contributes to the strength and skill development needed in the upper body, hands, and eye muscles for school-age tasks such as handwriting and cutting! Research has shown that, at four months of age, babies who spend at least 80 minutes per day playing on their tummy while awake are able to more successfully reach motor milestones involving the prone (laying on the tummy), supine (laying on the back), and sitting positions than those who spend less time playing on their tummy. ”
See a list of which milestones to expect in months 1-12 of tummy time. I also really like Rachel, an Occupational Therapist’s photographic guide of what you should expect to see at each developmental stage during tummy time.
See more reasons why tummy time is important.
When should I start ‘tummy time’ with my baby?
You can start tummy time from day 1, placing the baby on your chest. If you’re breastfeeding, baby may start to move around looking to latch on so this tummy-to-tummy time can be really helpful. Some babies dislike tummy time, so be careful not to do it immediately after a feed or when the baby is tired or grouchy.
You can start with just a minute here and there, gradually building up the time that your baby spends on their tummy. As they become more mobile, you can assist them to roll into and out of tummy time too.
Healthline provides a table of recommended lengths of time to spend on their tummy at various ages, but it is also important to judge your baby for yourself – some may be happy for longer periods of time, while others could have many short sessions spread out over the day.
|Age of baby||Daily tummy time recommendations|
|0 months||1–5 minutes at a time, 2–3 times per day|
|1 month||up to 10 minutes at a time, 2–3 times per day|
|2 months||up to 20 minutes per day, can be split up into multiple sessions|
|3 months||up to 30 minutes per day, can be split into multiple sessions|
|4 months||up to 40 minutes per day, can be split into multiple sessions|
|5–6 months||up to 1 hour at a time, as long as baby isn’t fussy|
WebMD has some tips for what to do if your baby hates tummy time!
What do I actually ‘do’ during tummy time?
Tummy time can be made easier and more fun for both you and baby by having a range of activities to try out.
Here are 5 essentials to get you started:
Here are a few ideas:
- Use a gym ball
I love my gym ball and used it pre-pregnancy, during pregnancy and post-pregnancy too! You can use it for some fun tummy time with baby. It works best if you cover the ball with a soft blanket or mum or dad’s jumper (bonus if it smells like mum or dad!). Carefully place the baby tummy down onto the gym ball, then gently rock the ball in different directions, keeping a secure hold on your baby and talking to them to reassure them at all times. This movement helps to develop your child’s balance and awareness of where their limbs are in relation to each other. It can also be a welcome change from always having tummy time on a flat surface. We do this one at least once or twice a day as I find that Jellybean will happily spend longer on her tummy on the gym ball than on the ground!
- Mirrors are your best friends
Babies cannot recognize themselves in the mirror until they are around 18 months old, but they are attracted to faces and love looking at themselves or other people in the mirror. We use a mirror that we initially bought to use in the car during tummy time – the strap that attaches it to a car seat also allows it to be propped up next to Jellybean when she is doing tummy time and she loves it! It is also made of light plastic so there is no risk of it breaking or hurting her if it does accidentally fall over.
Jellybean enjoys staring at the ‘other’ baby and gets quite excited if I get down beside her and pull faces in the mirror!
Can you believe that this wasn’t the first thing on my list?
Basic board books and books with different textures are perfect for use during tummy time, particularly if you place the book upright in front or beside your baby to encourage them to lift their head up. Our current favourite books for this are black and white high contrast books. I also use the black and white flashcards placed around Jellybean to encourage her to look in different directions.
When baby starts to get a bit more mobile, you can place books in a circle around the baby to encourage them to move around and look at the pictures.
- Sensory materials
Sensory materials are great to use during tummy time, but their use must always be supervised – you could use a sensory hoop to encourage baby to look and move around, use different materials and textures to create sounds, sensory bottles, etc.
You can also place baby down for tummy time on a variety of surfaces, such as your fluffy cardigan, a silver heat-retaining blanket, bubble wrap, etc.
Combining tummy time with sensory play can be great fun for both you and baby – you can create painting bags by adding some paint to a sandwich bag (I recommend double-bagging to protect your floor!) and taping it in front of baby, using a water mat and lots more.
- Tummy time anytime and everywhere!
Tummy time doesn’t always have to happen on a play mat, although there are lots of great ones out there with scrunchy material and interesting things for baby to look at. You can do it on your body, while walking around, outside on the grass or in the dark with torches and lights. You could lay baby down on your lap for a few minutes or rest them facedown in your arms while you change rooms. I like to put on a song lasting about 4 minutes and put Jellybean facedown in my arms to walk/dance around for the duration of the music. Then we go on the gym ball for a few minutes and finish with some tummy time on a mat or blanket, taking breaks as required.
Whatever you do, including just a few minutes tummy time into your day with baby will set them up for future successes.
I hope that this post has given you some ideas (See lots more ideas for tummy time activities from an Occupational Therapist) and I would loev to hear from you about how you soend tummy time with your little one.
Do you have any other suggestions for activities you could do with your baby during tummy time?
Does your baby enjoy tummy time or get frustrated?
Thanks for reading!