Babies experience so many developmental milestones in the first year, and while every baby develops at their own pace, there are some things that we can do as parents to help make sure they’re ready for each new stage. One of the first and best things you can do for your newborn is make sure they’re getting some “tummy time” every day.
What is tummy time, and why does it matter? Keep reading to learn more about this activity that you can begin almost as soon as your baby is born, and get our tips for safe, engaging and comfortable bonding!
What Is Tummy Time?
If you were born before the mid-to-late 1990s, your parents probably didn’t hear anything about “tummy time” during your infancy. That’s because tummy time arose out of a big change in infant sleep recommendations that took place in the 1990s.
It was 1994 when the American Academy of Pediatrics launched its “Back to Sleep” campaign (now called “Safe to Sleep”), urging parents to lay babies down on their backs to sleep in order to prevent sudden infant death syndrome. The effort was hugely successful in combating SIDS, but within a few years, pediatricians and researchers started to notice delays in certain developmental milestones, along with an increase in the number of infants developing flat spots on their heads. The culprit? All that extra time on their backs.
Why Is Tummy Time Important?
Tummy time — when your infant is placed on the floor or another safe surface in a face-down/prone position — is one of the first steps in your baby’s muscle development. Babies tend to spend a lot of time on their backs, in carseats and carriers and especially when they are sleeping, so they need to spend some time each day developing the muscles they’re not using when they’re lying face-up. Tummy time helps lay the groundwork for future developmental milestones, like sitting up, rolling over, speaking and eating.
As your baby gets older, tummy time is also an ideal way for them to learn about the world around them by exploring and seeing things from a new perspective. Researchers have observed a link between development of gross motor skills and development of some cognitive skills, indicating that there are real benefits to those sessions of prone playtime.
When To Start Tummy Time
Believe it or not, you should start daily tummy time with your baby right away — as soon as their umbilical stump falls off! Some newborns may not like tummy time at first, but it’s important to stick with it. Try talking and interacting with them using a toy or picture book to capture their interest.
To make sure you do some tummy time every day, find a way to work it into your baby’s natural rhythm. It’s best to do floor play when babies are at their most alert and active, so right after naptime is ideal for many infants, although you may need to experiment a bit to find out when your baby is happiest on their tummy. Soon it will become a habit for both of you. (Remember to talk to your childcare provider to make sure that tummy time happens throughout the day, too!)
How Much Tummy Time Do Babies Need?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting with three to five minutes of tummy time, two or three times a day. As your baby gets used to being prone, you can gradually increase the length of each session, working up to 10 or 15 minutes at a time, or about an hour total over the course of the day by the time they’re three months old.
When should you stop doing tummy time? Like so many other milestones in childhood, your baby will let you know when they’re ready. As your baby grows older, they will be able — and more interested — to spend more time on their tummy and eventually learn to scoot and crawl. Soon they’ll be getting around to explore the floor on their own. At that point, you can stop doing tummy time… and start babyproofing!
What Supplies Do I Need For Tummy Time?
Tummy time doesn’t require any special equipment, but there are a few things you might want or need to make it fun, safe and comfortable for both of you:
One more important note: Tummy time must always be closely supervised, and your baby should never be left to fall asleep while prone. Think of it as a nice break when you can focus on having fun with baby one-on-one — and remember that you aren’t the only one who can make tummy time happen! Caregivers, grandparents and other adults are often happy to spend some time playing with the baby. Tummy time is also a great way to include older siblings, cousins or friends in taking care of the new baby. Even very young children can help with tummy time, as long as there’s an adult around to keep an eye on the fun!
What are some of your tips and suggestions for tummy time success?