baby doing tummy time on a toki mats play mat

Tummy Time 101

March 28, 2022

Believe it or not, your newborn needs exercise from their very first week of life. Okay, maybe they won’t be lifting dumbbells or jumping on a treadmill any time soon, but they do need to spend time on their stomach to strengthen the muscles in their head, neck, and shoulders. Understandably, many babies aren’t fans of this. Without the strength to comfortably lift their heads, they end up awkwardly face-planting into the floor and crying for Mom or Dad to save them. Although it can be hard to watch your baby struggle, tummy time is necessary and plays an important role in their development. Here’s exactly what tummy time is, when and how to do it, and what to do if your baby hates it.

What is tummy time?

Tummy time is the time your baby spends on their stomach while awake. Every infant reacts differently to being placed on their stomach. Some are fascinated with the perspective shift, while others simply give in to helpless indignation and cry facedown. Because infants spend so much time sleeping on their backs, it’s important to take advantage of awake time and use it towards developing their muscles and preventing flat spots on their heads. 

Positional plagiocephaly (flat spot) occurs because infants’ skulls are very soft and malleable at birth in order to allow passage through the birth canal. It can take 9-18 months before your baby’s skull is fully formed. During this time, it’s important to give your baby plenty of time on their stomach to help their skull form properly. If your infant is born with a flat spot or has developed one from sleeping with their head always turned the same way, plenty of supervised tummy time can help correct the problem.

The role tummy time plays in your baby’s development is no small one. It’s essential for motor, visual, and sensory development. Being in that position strengthens your baby’s head, neck, shoulder, and trunk muscles, which they need to be able to move around, crawl, roll, and eventually walk. When placed on their stomach, your baby has the opportunity to lift and turn their head, as well as push up from the floor with their arms. They are given more range of movement, as well as a new perspective in which they are able to view the world right-side up. This aids the development of their hand-eye coordination. So, even if your infant bawls in protest, keep up the tummy time diligence!

baby and toddler playing on toki mats play mat

When should my baby start doing tummy time?

Tummy time can start right from birth. You can introduce your little one to tummy time by starting with their favorite spot: you! Since skin-to-skin is a valuable practice, especially in those first few weeks, you can also incorporate tummy time by placing your infant on your bare chest for as long as they’re comfortable. Not only will it begin strengthening those trunk muscles, but you’ll both reap the many benefits that skin-to-skin contact provides. An added bonus? Your baby is sure to be content, soothed, and happy while snuggled close to you. 

How long should tummy time last?

Initially, your baby’s tolerance for tummy time will probably be quite low. This is perfectly normal. It’s a new position, and an awkward one for them. Start with sessions as little as 2-3 minutes, and aim for a total of 10 minutes a day. As your baby gains strength in their neck, they’ll be able to hold the position longer.By the time your baby is 3 months old, aim for a total of 1 hour a day. Remember, this can be broken up into as many increments as your baby needs. It’s important to keep in mind that all babies are different. If yours screams the entire time, you can keep the sessions short and more frequent. 

What if my baby hates tummy time?

If your baby hates being on their tummy and (loudly) lets you know it, you can commiserate with the many parents in your exact situation. Although it’s important to keep giving them floor time on their belly, you don’t have to resign yourself to endless suffering. There are many things that you can do to help your baby learn to like tummy time, but if they’re particularly resolute, you can, at the very least, distract them. Here are a few tricks that may build your baby’s tolerance for tummy time:

  1. Set up a mirror

There are many products that are geared toward making tummy time easier. One of the most common toys for this is a mirror. Tummy time mirrors are made from a bendable, reflective surface and built in a soft frame for safety. This makes them perfect for placing in front of your baby, so they can study their own reflection. Babies are fascinated with human faces, and who better to look at than themselves?

  1. Create a soft surface

To make tummy time as comfortable for your baby as possible, set up a soft surface, such as a play mat, on the floor. This one is made from non-toxic, organic materials and features soft, breathable foam, so you can rest easy every time your baby presses their face into it. Alternatively, you can spread soft blankets on the floor to make the space more cozy. 

folded toki mats play mat in petal with toy on top

  1. Go to new heights

Placing your baby on an elevated surface, like your changing table, provides a whole new perspective for them. By bending low to be eye-level with your little one, they get the perfect view of their favorite person. This is a wonderful way to interact with your baby while giving them a change of view. Just be sure to never leave your baby unsupervised during tummy time, especially when they’re on a high surface. 

  1. Spread out the toys

As your baby is able to lift their head for longer periods of time, they will begin to show interest in interacting with their environment. By spreading your baby’s favorite toys around them, it gives your little one the opportunity to practice turning their head in either direction. Eventually, this can motivate your baby to reach for the toys, and later, even crawl towards them. 

toki mats play mat with toys spread out on top

Although you might not notice at first, your baby’s strength will improve rapidly. Initially, they may be only able to hold their head up for 2 minutes before dropping back to the floor. With everyday practice, however, you’ll soon find yourself clocking 10-minute sessions before your baby cries to be picked up. Those sessions won’t always be timed, and your baby will soon happily play on the floor without coaxing from you. In the blink of an eye, tummy time will turn into crawling, then walking. One of the greatest joys and most heartbreaking experiences is watching your baby grow up before your very eyes, but you can and should be proud of the work you’ve both put in to get there. 

Tummy Time 101

About the Author: Alice

Alice Mendoza is a copywriter and blog writer based in Los Angeles. She began writing for a baby brand while on maternity leave, and realized she had found her niche. Today, she writes exclusively within the baby space, using her BFA in Creative Writing and her own experience as a mother to guide her. When she’s not working, you can find her chasing down her toddler, going on walks around the neighborhood, or watching reality TV.

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