What is Tummy Time?

Tummy Time is a term that simply means what it says – the amount of time an infant is placed on their tummy. However, the importance of Tummy Time is far more important than this simple term implies.
In 1992 the American Academy of Pediatrics launched the “back to sleep” campaign encouraging families to only place their babies on their backs when sleeping. While the campaign was successful in reducing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by 50%, the unintentional consequence was significant delays in development and a sharp increase in plagiocephaly.
In order to combat the negative side effects of the “Back to Sleep” campaign, “Tummy Time” has been promoted and encouraged for all infants since the early 2000’s.

Why is Tummy Time Important?

With so much conflicting information about where and how you should be positioning your baby, it is no wonder parents are confused. Furthermore, with so many devices to use with your baby, a new phenomenon known as “Container Baby Syndrome” has developed. Some parents may resign themselves to the feeling that the best place for their baby is in the own arms. The simple truth is, that there is no ONE good place or position for your baby. As early as one day old, babies should be placed in a variety of positions and places. The greater the variety, the greater the opportunity your baby will have to move and develop. Additionally, the variety of positions your baby experience will help to shape their heads and avoid plagiocephaly. Tummy Time practice has been instrumental in reducing infants with misshapened skulls.
Placing your child on their back is still a safe and needed position, just not all the time. Place your baby on their back under a baby gym so they can reach and play. This will help your baby to discover their hands and improve eye hand coordination. Physically engaging your baby while they are on their backs strengthen their stomach and hip muscles as they kick, and play with their own feet.

Now let’s talk about why placing your child on their Tummy is so important, starting on day one.

Lying on the belly requires that an infant to extend their neck to be able to lift their head, progressing to propping on forearms requiring even more extension and use of upper back muscles, followed by propping on straight arms requiring the use of lower back muscles to extend the spine. Tummy time is critical for strengthening and stabilizing the back muscles as well as aligning the spine in preparation for sitting and walking.

The strength and endurance required to maintain your position on your belly as well as to weight shift to lift an arm and move is very difficult. The head/neck control a baby gains while playing on their tummy allows them to have more success with being held upright as well as gaining the skill of sitting.
Strengthening the back, stomach and arms are a requirement to your baby learning to crawl. Contrary to some popular commercial baby websites, it is NOT okay for your baby to skip crawling. Crawling is critical to the brain’s development of asymmetrical movements, hip joint formation, and visual motor coordination. While there are exercises and interventions that can be done, if skipping crawling is unavoidable due to medical complications, allowing a baby to skip crawling is never a good idea. And the skill of crawling start with Tummy Time.

Developmentally, a child progresses from laying to sitting, supported by propping on straight arms. They then learn to weight shift and reach with each arm to play. This weight shift and reach was first learned while on their tummy. Finally, a baby will have enough back strength to be able to sit upright without using their hands, and even reach for toys. Without a good balance of strength in their belly, back, and neck muscles, sitting would be impossible.
Ultimately, a child will want to move by crawling, pulling to stand and eventually walking. Without a firm foundation of strength and stability, your child may be delayed, or show poor coordination.


Fun tip: Try this yourself! Lie on your belly and prop on your forearms and then on straight arms. Feel how hard it is to prop on straight arms. Now you can understand why your child might resist this position. Also, you can understand how much strength arms can develop in this position.
Another fun tip: First lie flat on your belly with your arms flat at your sides. Lift your head and look around you. Now prop on your forearms and look around. Finally, prop on extended arms and look around. Notice how your visual field (what you see) changes. This is important for a child to expand what they see as well as to mature their vestibular system (the ability of the senses within your head to adjust to changes in position).

How and When should I do Tummy Time with my baby?

First rule! Never leave an infant unattended during Tummy Time.
Now that we hae that safety disclaimer covered, it is never too early and never too late to start Tummy Time. Tummy time is needed every day and should begin the first day you bring your infant home from the hospital. Start with just a few minutes at a time, several times per day. Gradually build up, as your baby is able to tolerate more.

Here are few tips that will help make you and your baby a success.

• It MUST always be supervised
• Should be done when your baby is happy – not tired or hungry.
• Should not be done right after your baby has eaten. This can put pressure on a full tummy and cause your baby to spit up.
• Only in short intervals (5- 10 minutes),
• Several times per day, every day.
• Use a nursing pillow or small towel roll under the arms to make it easier. This takes some of the weight off of the arms.
• Use toys and music to make it fun.
• Get on the floor so your baby can look at you.
• Hold your baby on your chest, facing you, and recline back so you are face to face. Babies loves to hear your voice and see your face!

When and What to expect with Tummy Time? Developmental Checklist:

At 0-3 months old

your infant will be able to start holding their head up when placed on my tummy. At first, they will be looking straight down, but with practice, they will be able to lift their head even higher. Make sure to place your baby’s arms are under them so they learn to push up.

At 3-6 months old

your infant will be able to push up more through their arms so they can really look around. They will be able to reach for toys and bring them to my mouth. Make sure to have plenty of toys! Even better, get down with your baby so they can look and reach for you. Remember, you are their favorite toy.

At 6-9 months old

your baby will start to move around while on my tummy. They will pivot and may learn to move backwards before moving forward. They love to explore, so make sure they are safe and let them move!

At 9-12 months

old your baby will be strong enough to push up onto their hands and knees for crawling. Watch out, world, babies on the move!

What if my baby doesn’t like it?

Some babies resist this position, and prefer the easier position of flexion (on their backs), or snuggling on their parent’s arms. The sooner you start Tummy Time, the less your child will resist it. If you baby does not seem to like Tummy Time, rule out any medical or physical discomfort first. Some common reasons your baby may not like Tummy Time is reflux or torticollis. Address any medical issues that may interfere with Tummy Time.
You can start by placing your baby on your chest in a reclined position, and you slowly lay down flat. By having your baby on your chest, this helps to keep them engaged, feel safe, and if you are reclined may reduce the negative effects of reflux while still giving them the needed Tummy Time Position. Hang in there and keep trying! With practice and toys to make it fun, your child will learn to enjoy it.