Why is tummy time so important

Why is tummy time so important

Why is tummy time so important?

What is tummy time?

Tummy time is when you place your baby on their tummy while awake and someone is watching them. We know that it’s safest for babies to always sleep on their backs, but that means infants spend up to 15 hours a day facing the ceiling. As a result, today’s babies have fewer chances to practice using their arms, back, neck, and head to lift themselves up.

Why is tummy time so important?

There are lots of benefits to doing tummy time! These include:

  • Strengthening your baby’s head control (strengthens the muscles of their neck)
  • Helping to build your baby’s muscles so they can start to reach, roll, pivot, sit up, crawl and walk (their shoulders and back)
  • Helping to keep baby safe in the sleep environment – strong muscles mean your baby is able to lift their head more easily and straighten their arms. This gives them a better chance of rolling or moving themselves into a position of safety if they roll onto their stomach during sleep (reduce the risk of SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents)
  • Protecting the shape of your baby’s head (reduces flat spots on the back of your baby’s head)
  • Allows baby to view the world from different angles supporting healthy brain development

How much tummy time does my baby need?

Tummy time is safe to start from birth! It is normal for your baby to find tummy time difficult to begin with, they are building the strength in their neck, shoulder and back muscles and it will be hard for them at first. Babies may only tolerate a couple of minutes of tummy time at a time at first. New babies benefit from 2 to 3 tummy time sessions each day for a short period of time (3 to 5 minutes). It has been found that babies who start regular tummy time early tend to like this position more and can manage it for longer periods of time. Slowly increase the time as your baby becomes stronger (aiming for 10 to 15 minutes at least three times a day, by around four months of age). Babies with big heads or those who were born early often find tummy time more difficult and may need more time to improve at it.

We recommend you continue with tummy time until your baby starts to crawl or can get onto and off their tummy themselves. Once your baby is doing this, they will be doing their own tummy time. Remember, it is safe to start tummy time from birth. 

What are some tips for doing tummy time?

  • Your baby needs to be supervised during tummy time to reduce suffocation risks if they get stuck
  • Tummy time is best when baby is awake, not too tired and not too soon after a feed (which may cause vomiting or discomfort)
  • When first starting tummy time as a newborn, baby can be belly down on your chest or lap so they can get used to the position
  • If your baby vomits a lot or has reflux, you can and should continue with tummy time. Try the positions where your baby is more upright such as on your chest, over your legs or on a gym ball. Try waiting 20 to 30 minutes after a feed before placing your baby on their tummy to reduce vomiting and discomfort
  • The more upright your baby is when they are on their tummy, the easier it will be for them. You may start with more upright positions and then make the positions more horizontal as they start to develop. Every little bit helps and your baby should slowly improve and start to enjoy being on their tummy
  • You can also try using a breastfeeding pillow if your baby seems to like it. Place the pillow on the floor on top of a blanket, then place baby on their belly over the pillow, with their arms and shoulders propped on top. Make sure you watch your baby at all times. Reposition them if they start to slip down the pillow
  • Don’t give up if baby doesn’t enjoy tummy time or can only do it for a couple of minutes at first – it will get better with daily practice
  • If your baby is crying when placed on their tummy, try to distract them with play. You can get down on the floor with your baby, use toys such as rattles and mirrors, and sing and talk to them. It is very normal for young babies to be unhappy on their tummy as their heads are heavy and tummy time is hard for them
  • Try tummy time in different locations, including outdoors in the shade on a rug in warm weather
  • Try to use a play mat that isn’t too silky, soft or slippery and a surface that isn’t too soft
  • Newborn babies can move their heads by themselves but not control their position. You may need to help them position their head in the middle
  • To help your baby lift their head, gently press down on their bottom. This gives them something solid to push off. For adults, this is similar to when someone holds your feet when you are doing a sit up
  • Your baby will find tummy time easier if they can take their weight through their elbows. You may need to help them with this or support them there
  • Keep an eye on how it’s going – tummy time is a workout for your baby. If your baby becomes sleepy during tummy time, put them on their back to sleep in their crib

Here are some positions you can try during tummy time

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When should I get help?

Remember that it is normal for your baby to find tummy time difficult to begin with. If you remain concerned or are worried about any of the following, please seek medical advice from your GP, Maternal and Child Health nurse, paediatrician or a paediatric physiotherapist:

  • Your baby isn’t improving at tummy time after six to eight weeks of age
  • Your baby feels very stiff or very floppy
  • If your baby is six weeks old and not making eye contact or focussing on toys
  • If your baby is developing a misshapen head or a strong preference to have their head on one side
  • If your baby is not moving both sides of their body the same

Learn more about speech pathology or speech therapy for kids today!