Tummy Time Tips

by Jack Maypole, M.D., Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member
Baby enjoying tummy time in a soft, colorful play mat

For those of us lucky enough to be in a delivery room when a baby is born, we can see that children arrive on the planet already doing things. Extremities move. Eyes rove about. And inside of a few minutes, the child placed upon the chest of a parent will show that they are in a cozy and proper position to chill, or perchance to food. All that is to say, healthy babies often do tummy time within the first hours after birth. What many folks wonder about, however, is what is the recommendation after that? Is there a recommended amount of such tummy time? (yes, more on that below) Does that time change as a child ages? (yes again), and are there children for whom one might consider less tummy time? (sometimes). 

Ok, lay down on the floor, and let’s dig in: 

Newborns (babies 0-1 month old) and older babies can do tummy time right away as noted. Begin with short sessions, lasting about 3-5 minutes apiece over the day. Laying the baby down on a soft, clear surface is both pleasant and safe. You can do these belly sprints for the duration or until the child fusses or seems uncomfortable (whichever comes first). By 2 months of age, we recommend that babies get about 15 to 30 minutes tummy time over a day. Over time these sessions may become a little longer, and you will see your child’s head control and strength improving. Early on, newborns may bobble a bit as they try to get their head off the floor. After even just a couple of weeks, you’ll see upper body strength with these sessions increase and babies will do something of a modified upward dog. Keep an eye on your little charge during tummy time, ensuring they are comfortable and safe. Avoid positioning them near the edge of furniture or near an object they might roll over onto. Babies start rolling over around 4 months, and you never really know when they will finally do it! 

Some babies are not tummy time fans and get very upset when put in that position. As in many things baby, we let the infants guide us. It may be appropriate to try once in a while to see if their reluctance changes over those first few months, but don’t stress yourselves out! Play, distraction with songs and toys may help. Still, some babies may not be so suited for tummy time for several reasons. Some babies with severe spottiness or reflux, for example, may tend to vomit more when put on their belly. Other children, including ex preemies, may have gastrostomy or feeding tubes, a history of surgery or monitors on their bellies; asking their pediatric specialist or primary care provider around any limits or restrictions is always a good idea. 

Lastly, we’d be remiss not to mention that tummy time is not recommended for bedtime. Research continues to support the practice of putting your child on their back to sleep when they are very young lowers the risk of sudden unexpected infant death. For those babies who are older who roll around in their sleep, we can let them do their thing. By six months, most babies can spend up to an hour a day on their tummies, while they learn to get into the crawl position and explore their world on a whole new level. For children who have developmental delays or neurologic conditions, getting recommendations from a specialist or pediatric trained occupational or physical therapist can offer excellent guidance that meet a child’s particular needs.

In the meantime, get yourself down on that floor, tummyfirst, and take a gander at a baby’s eye view of the world. Lift up your head, move your arms and plank a little bit. Before very long, I think you’ll appreciate what amazing progress these kiddos make in very little time.

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