Tummy Time: Benefits, When to Start, and Tips for Success

Your baby’s back from the hospital, and you’re ready to help them develop the skills they need as they start to grow. You’ve established “times” for everything: nap time, bed time, bath time, and meal time. The next one you’ll want to add to your little one’s repertoire is tummy time.

In this article, we’ll tell you what tummy time is, when to start it, and its benefits. We’ll also share some tips on how to make the most of this special time together as your baby tests their muscles and all of their new skills.

Table of contents

What is tummy time?

Although you probably know that babies are supposed to be put down to sleep on their back, they can (and should) be placed on their stomachs sometimes — while they’re awake and supervised.

This is tummy time: when you place your little one on their belly so that they can start testing their neck, back, and arm muscles. When done daily, tummy time helps your baby gain the strength needed for lifting their head and, in time, sitting, crawling, and walking.

Benefits of tummy time

baby on tummy time

There are lots of reasons for baby to spend time on the flip side. Let’s take a look.

Gaining strength

As we said, tummy time helps exercise and strengthen baby’s neck, shoulders, and arms. With daily practice, they’ll start pushing up, then sitting up, standing, and eventually walking.

Developing motor skills

As your baby uses and controls their muscles to accomplish various movements, they develop the motor skills of their larger muscle groups.

Preventing flat head

Too much time in one position can result in flat head syndrome. Since your little one has been spending a lot of time on their back, tummy time provides a chance to switch things up and prevent flat spots.

Helping relieve torticollis

If your little one has torticollis, or tight muscles in their neck that make it hard for them to turn their head, tummy time is a good opportunity to do special exercises to help relieve the condition.

Developing baby’s senses

Imagine all of the sensory activity that occurs with tummy time: your baby is smelling new smells, feeling new textures, and seeing the world differently from this angle.

Bonding with baby

Mom with baby outside having tummy time

During tummy time, you can position baby on your own tummy or lie down next to them. Then talk, sing, or hum playfully while encouraging lots of eye contact. All that time face to face is great for bonding and socialization!

When to start tummy time

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, as soon as you’re back from the hospital, it’s safe to start tummy time.

Just a couple minutes two to three times a day will be sufficient to start, and then increase as they gain strength.

Tips for successful tummy time

We’ve put together a few tummy time tips to keep your little one safe and engaged.

Make sure baby is awake and alert.

Just like we don’t exercise when we’re sleepy, your baby should be alert and ready for their daily workout.

Ensure baby is fed and changed.

All of your baby’s needs should be met before they start their tummy time. They won’t give it their all if they’re distracted by hunger or a wet diaper.

Place baby on a low, safe surface.

You never put your baby on an elevated surface or somewhere cushy while they’re on their stomach, as it would be unsafe. Instead, choose a firm, low surface (or your own lap or tummy) for their daily exercises.

If you place them on your lap, be sure to provide head support and keep their head aligned with their body. Lifting your legs up and down and side to side will give baby some extra fun.

You can also place your little one on a rug or a playmat or spread a blanket on the floor for tummy time. You’ll want to secure the blanket so it doesn’t slide around when your baby moves. You can also use a rolled-up towel to prop them up a bit.

If you place your little one straight on the floor (which is OK, too), don’t forget to sweep it clean first.

Choose surfaces with different textures.

To keep things interesting, you might try various surfaces throughout the day in order to introduce your baby to new textures. Tummy time can be a sensory exploration, and a playmat will feel different than the floor or a low pile rug.

It’s both a workout and a learning experience!

Dress baby in a onesie or diaper.

It’s nice for your baby to have exposed skin when it’s tummy time, as this will give them a greater sensory experience.

Start with short sessions.

As we said, when it comes to tummy time, you want to start slow — just a few minutes two or three times a day is good to begin. Pretty soon, they can work up to three to five minutes for each session. As your little one gets more strength, they can be on their belly for even longer.

The most important thing is that you are right there with them, keeping a keen eye to ensure they’re safe and their airways are not blocked. At this early stage, they don’t have the head or neck control needed to reposition themselves when needed.

By the time they’re two months, they should enjoy 15 to 30 minutes of tummy time each day, and when they’re three months, the total time on their belly should be an hour.

Try putting baby on their side.

If your little one isn’t taking to tummy time at the beginning, you can start by laying them on their side. If you need to, prop their back against a rolled-up towel or nursing or pregnancy pillow, and place a folded washcloth under their head.

Make sure their arms and legs are in front of them so they’re comfortable. Vary their position every 10 to 15 minutes.

Lie down with your baby.

Of course, tummy time is even better when you’re down at eye level with your little one. They’ll love to show mommy or daddy all of their new skills.

Inspire your baby with toys.

Get your little one’s attention by shaking soft, safe toys. This will help them practice reaching, further exercising their muscles and stimulating their senses.

Use a mirror.

Your baby will enjoy their tummy time even more if they can watch their own progression. Who’s that in the mirror? You, silly!

You can move the mirror from side to side, and watch your baby follow.

Never walk away from your baby.

The most important safety rule when it comes to tummy time is to never walk away. You want to choose times of the day when you can be fully engaged, with no distractions.

Because your little one may not have the strength to get themselves out of a bad position, they’re relying on you to be there to help if needed.

Make tummy time part of your daily schedule.

Just like you’ve made a feeding and sleeping schedule, you’ll want to make a schedule for tummy time.

For example, after your baby enjoys a meal and diaper change, pencil in their strengthening exercise session — once in the morning, afternoon, and evening.

Always put baby to sleep on their back.

Just because your baby has been doing all of this good work getting stronger while on their belly doesn’t mean it’s safe for them to be in this position when they sleep.

Until 12 months, your little one should always be put to bed on their back, in their bassinet, crib, or travel crib that’s free of toys, blankets, or anything else that can pose a hazard.

When it comes to sleep, Newton Baby crib mattresses are perfect for getting safe shut-eye. Our Original Mattress is 100% breathable and washable and features a soft, quilted removable cover.

It’s also GREENGUARD Gold Certified, meaning it adheres to the most stringent guidelines with regard to VOC emissions and indoor air quality.

Share the fun.

Everyone will enjoy spending this special time together watching baby get stronger both mentally and physically. Share the time with your partner so that you both can brag about your sweet bundle of joy.

Stronger every day!

As you can see, tummy time is a very important part of your little one’s development and a great opportunity for bonding. By following our tips, you can ensure your little one’s daily workout is both safe and effective.

Of course, with all of that exercise, your little one will need extra-restful naps between sessions. Newton Baby’s Essential Crib Mattress is firm, breathable, and even washable for a safe and comfy slumber.

And when baby wakes up, they’ll be rested and ready to lie on their belly once again and show you everything they can do thanks to you.