Tummy Time: When Should I Start?

Smiling baby boy lies on his stomach at home

Tummy Time: When Should I Start?

One of the most common questions parents have about newborns and infants relates to tummy time and just how much of it babies should get. Before jumping into the answer, let’s take a look at what tummy time is, how it came about, and why it is now so commonly recommended as an important activity for babies.

What is Tummy Time?

Technically speaking, tummy time is not actually a developmental milestone, but rather an important activity that allows your baby to stretch and strengthen his neck, shoulder, arm and body muscles – all muscles that will eventually play a key role in his learning to roll, sit, scoot and crawl. Tummy time is important for your baby’s developing muscles and motor development.

Infant lying on floor mat and seems happy

What’s the Backstory?

Both “back sleeping” and “tummy time” are common phrases in today’s parenting vocabulary, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, parents 25 years ago really didn’t need to be told to carve out time for their babies to spend on their tummies because it was the norm – both while awake and while asleep.

Then came Back to Sleep, the public health campaign launched in the mid-1990s to educate parents, caregivers and health care providers about the importance of back sleeping to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The campaign was a success, as a majority of babies were soon sleeping on their backs and SIDS rates plummeted.

Soon, it was the norm for babies to be laid on their backs all the time, rather than just while asleep. This shift not only limited their opportunities to stretch and strengthen their muscles, but also put them at risk for a condition technically referred to as positional plagiocephaly – more commonly recognized as “flat head syndrome” (since more pressure is put on the back of babies’ heads when they are on their backs). Hence, tummy time was born and is now an important activity recommended for newborns and infants.

Infant lying on couch and seems happy

Tummy Time Tips

Tummy time is something you can introduce to your baby as soon as you head home from the hospital. As for timing during the day, just remember: back while sleeping and tummy while awake. Other than that, there’s no need to mark your calendar or set a timer!

Following are additional parenting tips and tricks to help you take some of the tummy time pressure off both you and your baby.

  • Entertaining a new view: Not all babies need to be convinced that spending time on their tummies is a fun thing to do. But, you can help your baby enjoy this new view of the world by placing toys in front of him, helping him prop himself up a bit on his elbows, and by laying down face-to-face so you can look at, talk to and sing to him.
  • Making it a habit: If laying your baby down on her back to sleep is a force of habit, just remember that it can take a conscious effort to get into the routine of placing her on her tummy when she’s awake.
  • Tummy time protests: Some babies, especially those unaccustomed to spending much time on their bellies, may protest a bit at first. Before giving in, ask yourself whether your baby’s squawks truly count as cries of distress, since most likely they will resolve as your baby becomes accustomed to regular tummy time!

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