Tummy Time Guidelines | How to Master Tummy Time

You may have stumbled on this page because you weren’t sure about how to start with tummy time, what to expect, and the general guidelines and expectations out there.

You may be a first-time mom with a newborn, or maybe you’re an experienced mom looking for reassurance that you’re doing things right.

It’s tough being a mom in 2021, where we are bombarded with information and guidelines, and recommendations from countless sources! That’s why I’ve delved into the research and compiled a list of FAQ’s and advice from the experts.

This post contains affiliate links and may provide a small commission to me at no cost to you. Read my full disclosure here.

Tummy time on mat

What is tummy time?

Tummy time is the time a baby spends on his stomach, awake, and under supervision. The next section describes why this time is so important for your baby.

** Always check with your baby’s pediatrician before doing tummy time, especially if your baby is premature, has reflux, or suffers from any health issues.

Why tummy time?

In 1994, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that infants sleep lying on their back for their safe sleep campaign. This was great because it reduced the incidence of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) but also caused 20% of infants to develop flat heads. They’ve since changed their motto to “back to sleep, tummy to play”. (1)

Tummy time not only helps with plagiocephaly (aka flat head syndrome), but it improves motor development, crawling, reaching, and playing, and also helps muscle development of the back, shoulder, and neck.

How to do tummy time

Put baby in a prone position on the stomach, make sure their face is not resting on the surface and their airway is clear. Help them by placing their arms in front of them. They may rest on their forearms or even push up on them.

When to start tummy time

Start it when they are a newborn, right when the come home from the hospital! You can even do it in the hospital and ask your nurse to show you how to do it.

How often to do it

The American Occupational Therapy Association recommends to begin with short intervals, such as 2 to 3 minutes a day, and work up to a total of at least 40-60 minutes a day. (2)

When to do tummy time

Try doing it right after they wake up, so they are alert and not fatigued, however you can do tummy time at any point during the day when your baby is alert and awake.

How long to do it

Start with 2-3 minute intervals, and work up from there. Make sure to stop if your baby is getting tired. Signs of tiredness may include crying, fussing, or resting their face or head on the surface they are laying on. Your goal is to get at least 40-60 minutes per day.

Positions

On your Lap

tummy time on lap

This is also a great burping position and can be done right after feeding.

tummy time on lap front view

On your chest- sitting up

tummy time on chest sitting up

This position is great for newborns for two reasons:

  1. It puts less pressure on the belly, so it is good for when the umbilical cord hasn’t fallen off yet.
  2. It’s easier for a newborn to hold their head up because they are not completely flat.

It is also a great position for all babies because it enables you to interact with them easily and make eye contact.

Babies who do not like tummy time on the floor or on a mat may enjoy this upright position instead.

tummy time on chest side view

On your chest- lying down

tummy time on chest laying down

This position is slightly more advanced but is another great way to interact with your baby while developing their muscles.

This is also a great nursing position if you have an oversupply because the milk comes out slower and is less likely to overwhelm your baby.

On the floor

tummy time on mat supervised

Ways to improve tummy time

  • Use a boppy pillow or a rolled up blanket or towel under their chest
  • Use toys to entertain them and encourage them to lift their head.
  • Get down on their level, sing to them, and make good eye contact.
tummy time with a rolled up blanket

What if my baby hates tummy time?

Use shorter intervals

If your baby is not tolerating tummy time, try shorter intervals, more frequently. If they tire out at 3 minutes, try just doing it for 2 minutes and work up from there.

Establish a routine

Babies love routines, and it helps gain a sense of security with their caregivers. Try placing them on their tummy after naptime, right after a diaper change. This is a great time to do it because they are likely to be very alert when they first wake up. Routines might help you to remember to do it too!

Alternative position- Side-lying

side lying position

Position your baby on their side with arms in front of them, knees slightly bent, and prop their head up with your hand or a rolled up blanket.

This position is nice because it helps develop the lateral muscles of the neck, gets them off the back of their head, and can help encourage them to reach and play.

Use Interaction

Rub their back, sing to them, and talk to them.

Try placing a toy in front of them to entertain them and encourage them to reach.

Some good toys include:

Try different surfaces

Try using a mat. There are tons of play mats out there that are interactive and fun to look at.

This one was the one my first daughter used, and she loved it!

A prop and play mat is also another option, and has a lot of different toys on it for playing.

You can also prop them up using a boppy pillow.

Don’t do it when they’re tired

Most babies don’t like tummy time if they’re tired. Try doing it right after they wake up!

Don’t stress!

Seriously, don’t stress about this stuff… time will help your baby get used to it, and they will slowly get better and better. Try some of these tips to help you out.

Babywear

Both my kids weren’t fans of tummy time. Baby-wearing is not considered tummy time, but has the same benefits: it prevents flat head, helps with motor development, and helps develop back and neck muscles.

There are many other benefits of baby-wearing. Check out my post to read more about it:

Complete Guide to Baby-Wearing

Tummy time milestones

Every child is different, so take these milestones with a grain of salt. If you think your baby has a developmental delay, talk to your doctor for a referral for an early interventions program. Some states provide free programs for this. For example, my daughter did Early On in Michigan and we had great success with this. They provided us with reassurance and tips, and it gave us confidence as parents.

0-2 months old

This is when your baby is first getting used to tummy time!

  • Baby can lift up head briefly, not all the way up.
  • They may be able to turn their head and rest their opposite cheek down.
  • Make sure they are comfortable with their head turned to either side (Talk to their pediatrician if they seem uncomfortable on one side or are preferring one side over the other. This may be due to a condition called Torticollis, where one side of the neck is weaker than the other.)

2 Months old

  • By this time, infants usually have enough strength to hold their head up independently when in an upright position.
  • Baby may start to push their chest up briefly with their forearms and elbows while in tummy time position.

4 months old

  • Usually by 4 months, infants can push up their head and chest using their elbows and forearms when lying face down.
  • They can hold their head all the way up in a steady position while in tummy time.

5 Months old

  • Babies at this age usually begin stretching out their arms to reach for objects while lying on their stomach.
  • They can use their legs to push forward while lying face down.
  • They can push up even higher off the floor with their arms.
  • Babies begin learning how to roll from their stomach to their side.

6 Months old

  • Babies usually can roll from their stomach to their backs in either direction.
  • Babies may also be able to roll from their backs to their stomach as well!

At what point can you stop tummy time entirely?

When your baby can roll onto their stomach and play and spends time in this position as well as playing sitting up, you no longer need to do scheduled tummy time. Babies typically learn to sit without support at around 7 months of age.

Can you do tummy time after feeding?

You can, but be cautious. If your baby spits up frequently or seems uncomfortable after a feeding, you may want to burp them upright first, then wait at least an hour before laying them on their stomach. It is better and recommended to do it before feeding.

If your baby tolerates it, you can lay them across your lap for a burp. If they aren’t fussing, you can keep them there for a few minutes of tummy time. Make sure to lay down a towel or a burp cloth!

Is tummy time safe for newborns?

Yes! Always ask your newborn’s pediatrician before doing tummy time with your newborn. Make sure to always supervise tummy time. You can try out sitting on the couch in a reclined position and laying your baby on your chest. This puts less pressure on the baby’s umbilical cord and is easier for them to lift their head up.

Can tummy time help reflux?

While it is not shown to help reflux, it is still recommended to start tummy time even for infants with reflux. According to Seattle Children’s Hospital, tummy time is still important for babies with reflux, but it is recommended to do it before feeding, when the stomach is empty. (3)

If your baby has reflux, they may not tolerate tummy time as much as other babies. The pressure on their stomach may cause discomfort and cause them to spit up. The key to this is doing frequent tummy time, right before feeding, and keeping it only a few minutes long. Eventually, it will become easier. Using a wedge may be helpful for them to combat reflux.

Can tummy time help with gas?

Yes, the pressure on the stomach can help relieve gas and move things along throughout the intestines.

Other Resources:

American Academy of Pediatrics on Tummy Time

American Occupational Therapy Association on Tummy Time

Seattle Children’s Hospital on Tummy Time

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