What You Need to Know About Tummy Time

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Cute baby on his tummy with copy space

Tummy Time is the new Core Training. It’s never too early to begin training a functionally strong core. And by “never too early,” we mean to start this kind of “exercise” with your newborn as Tummy Time!  

“Tummy Time” as a phrase has been coined in the last ten years as a response to the AAP (American Association of Pediatrics) “Back to Sleep” campaign to reduce the instance of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.)  

Happily, in the last decade with the campaign of placing babies on their backs to sleep, we’ve seen a dramatic decline in babies dying from SIDS.  However, so much time laying on the back (or in car seats, for that matter) can cause a flat spot to develop on baby’s skull and can disrupt the development of important muscles as baby grows.

It is important for parents to change up baby’s position throughout the day as a way to “ask” them to “exercise” their back and other core muscles, so they develop their muscles and coordination properly during infancy.

Baby in white vest learning to crawl on alphabet mat.

Exercise Time for Baby?

By “exercise,” we don’t mean you need to hire a personal trainer for your baby.  On the contrary, parents can and should participate in baby’s functional movement development just as soon as they are out of the womb.

Giving baby the chance to test out their core strength can be a fun and exploratory activity for babies and parents alike. Tummy Time is an excellent example of how changing your baby’s position helps them grow, build functional strength,  and get to know the world around them.

Tummy Time can be introduced for your newborn by laying them face down across your chest or lap for a few moments.  Give this a try and see how your baby responds. Some babies truly relax and enjoy the position, and others feel a little less-than-excited about it. 

If baby complains a bit about lying belly-down,  you can still be consistent with offering that position to your child, but keep the length of time to a minimum (working toward 3 minutes at a time) as your newborn develops his strength and tolerance for being on his tummy.  (Fringe benefit, skin-to-skin contact with your baby on her stomach across your chest also promotes calming, bonding, and may even assist with brain development!)

Another (and perhaps more palatable) position for infant “belly-down” position is to lay baby across your arm with your palm cradling baby’s chin and baby’s legs on either side of your elbow. This position has the advantage of being mobile.  With this hold, you and baby can carefully walk around and give her a new view on the world beneath her!

Timing is Essential for Success

Timing is key for baby’s belly-down adventures.  Be sure to wait a while after feeding before placing baby on her tummy.  And, Tummy Time is best when your baby is calm, awake, and alert–like after her nap instead of just before sleepy time.  

Newborns should be offered tummy time twice per day for up to 3 minutes at a stretch.  After a few weeks or a couple of months, babies should gradually increase their total tummy time to 20 minutes per day.

Little baby play with toys on the floor

At age 4-6 months, parents can begin to notice and celebrate their baby’s core strength milestones! By working against gravity to hold her head and torso up, your baby is creating something called “overload” in her little muscles.  Muscle “Overload” means doing more with our muscles than we normally do, and it is the only way that we build strength at any age.  

Babies at this stage on their tummies are naturally experiencing muscular “overload” as they begin to reach for objects, roll around and even topple over, or also be able to lift both their arms and legs in the air like tiny flying superheroes.  

A baby “push-up” can also be observed and celebrated at this stage as your little one begins to lift her chest off the floor with her arms to get a better look around or grab a toy you place near her.  

She Doesn’t Like It!

Full disclosure:  some babies like tummy time about as much as sitting in a dirty diaper.  If this is true for your baby, don’t despair. It’s okay to keep introducing tummy time in regular small increments and to let your child build his tolerance for it a little at a time.  

The more you can make tummy time a consistent-but-short part of life at your home, the more your baby will be able to predict, tolerate, and (hopefully) eventually enjoy it.  

You can still celebrate your baby’s strength and coordination milestones even if he is frustrated with being on his belly.  Who knows? Being unhappy on his tummy might motivate him to roll on his own to his back a little sooner!

When babies are allowed and encouraged to experiment with moving their bodies, they build confidence to keep trying new things.

6 months old baby boy child at tummy time on the play gym

Final Thoughts

Tummy time is a fun opportunity to get down on the floor with your baby!  You can place objects in front of him, or make silly faces at him. After all, how often do you get the chance to see the world through your baby’s eyes?  If you make tummy time fun for your baby, he may reward you with a sparkly smile or laughter or a look of wonder at his strength and accomplishment when he discovers something new about his body.  

Encouraging your baby’s continued experimentation with how her body moves in the world can have a significant impact on her whole life. Empowering your child with tummy time as an infant can set him up for a lifetime of health and wellness, believe it or not.

If you the parent continue to encourage and offer intentional body movement activities like tummy time, and later on physical play time, exercise, or sport, you can give your child the gift of health and wellness forever.  With a little time and practice, both you and your baby can be Tummy Time experts and movement adventurers for life. What a valuable return on investment from laying around on your tummies!

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