Tummy Time Basics For Your Baby

LIttle boy on tummy big blue eyes
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What Is Tummy Time?

Tummy time is exactly like it sounds. It is placing your baby on her belly to "play" or just hang out while she is awake. Yep, it really is that simple. Yet for as "simple" as an activity as it sounds, tummy time serves as the basis for many important developmental skills. When tummy time is a part of your baby's daily play, she builds prerequisite skills needed for pushing up, rolling over, sitting up, and even standing.

The trick can be getting her to enjoy this period of play.

Tummy time doesn't necessarily have to be on the floor, however. I found that keeping my baby close in a baby carrier helped her accomplish tummy time while I still held her -- she developed those muscles and strength needed to lift her head and look around while still being happy close to me. 

Why Does My Baby Need to Be on Her Belly?

There are many benefits to tummy time that explain why your baby needs to be on her belly every day. For one, babies now spend so much time on their backs that they need to remove the pressure off the back of the head. Flattening of the head often occurs from time spent either lying flat or even reclined (as in a car seat, bouncy, or swing). Tummy time helps relieve that pressure.

Additionally, tummy time helps build both gross and fine motor skills in babies. You'll see these skills be worked as your baby begins to work muscles as she kicks and flutters about.

She may also grasp onto the material she is lying on.

How Is Tummy Time Connected With the Back to Sleep Campaign?

So if you hear your baby's grandparents noting how they "never even heard of tummy time," that's more than likely true. Tummy time is actually connected with the Back to Sleep campaign that began in 1994.

This initiative, institued by National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health and backed by the AAP, encourages parents to put their babies to sleep on their backs, rather than their bellies in order to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Notably, since that time of the campaign's beginnings the rate of SIDS has dropped more than 50%.

When Can My Baby Start Tummy Time?

Your baby can begin tummy time as early as day one. The current recommendation is that your baby spend 30 minutes a day on her belly. Now don't panic—that does not have to come in one big chunk of time. You can break it up into segments throughout the day if your baby seems to get overly frustrated. Those segments can be very short if necessary. And remember, you don't necessarily have to put your baby on the floor to practice tummy time. You can accomplish tummy time with your baby on your chest or in a carrier, too. 

Ideally, choose a time when your baby has been well-fed, alert, and content. There is no sense in insisting on tummy time when she is fussy. It is not at all unusual for babies to not really enjoy tummy time in the beginning, what's important is to not give up- keep trying!

How Can I Keep Her Happy on Her Belly?

There are many different ways of keeping your baby entertained while on her belly.

  • Lie down and place her on your chest.
  • Try tummy time on the changing table but don't leave her unattended.
  • Lie down beside her on a blanket and "chat" with her.
  • Allow her to use a pacifier or place her hand near her mouth so she can suck on it.
  • As she gains control of her head, use an large exercise ball to lie her own. Just be mindful of keeping a good grip on her as she plays.
  • Rather than carrying her in a traditional cradle hold, carry her so that her belly is pressed against your forearm, head placed near your elbow.
  • Use tummy time toys.

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