Tummy time: Duration by age
Every attentive parent wonders whether their child is doing everything they should be doing at the right age. We were no exception, especially with our first child.
And while we would never encourage anyone to compare their baby to others as a gauge of their progress, sometimes it's useful to have a bit of a guideline to make sure nothing is going severely wrong. it can feel a little patronising to hear those refrains of 'all babies get there in the end' and 'she'll get there in her own time', but it really often is just the case of every kid having their own journey.
What we can do as parents, is give our kids the best support we can to keep up with developmental milestones. It's not worth stressing about, but if there's something practical we can do to encourage and support our kids, most parents will want to do it.
That's why tummy time feels so important. It's the beginning of your baby's physical development journey, and it's something you get to play an active role in. So this article should give you the complete guide you need. It includes:
- A guide to what tummy time actually is
- The benefits of tummy time
- What age to start tummy time with your baby
- How to do tummy time with your baby
- What should tummy time look like at each age
- Tips for tummy time success
- How to make tummy time more enjoyable
- A guide to tummy time positions by age (with pictures!)
What is tummy time
Tummy time is when you place young babies (under 6 months old) on their tummy while they are awake (and supervised), to develop their neck and upper body muscles.
Tummy time is typically most important (and actually most neglected) for babies at around 2-3 months of age. Experts recommend babies get 30 minutes of tummy time by the time they are 3 months old. That doesn't have to be in one go, but to help your baby achieve that goal physically, it's best to gradually increase the amount of time they spend on the tummy from day 1.
Tummy time came about as a response to the "Back to Sleep" campaign, which was launched in the 1990s to promote the practice of placing infants on their backs to sleep in order to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Read more about how the back to sleep campaign saved thousands of baby lives since December 1991 in the UK.
The campaign has been successful in reducing the incidence of SIDS, but it also led to an increase in cases of positional plagiocephaly (flat head syndrome) caused by infants spending extended periods of time on their backs. More time on their back also limits the physical development of a baby's core and upper body muscles which can delay gross motor skill development. Physical development is also closely linked to a mental and social & communication development so ensuring your baby learns to reach, roll, sit and then crawl at the right age is enormously important.
Tummy time was therefore introduced as a way to counteract these physical development problems. Tummy time helps to develop the neck and upper body muscles, and to prevent the development of flat head syndrome, paving the way for a baby's all round development in the early years of their life.
7 benefits of tummy time for your baby
The benefits of tummy time go beyond making sure your baby doesn't suffer from a flat head. When you do tummy time right, creating the right environment to help your baby, reach, roll and crawl, it will improve their all round physical development. Tummy time done right will:
1. Promote motor development
2. Help strengthen neck and shoulder muscles
3. Enhance visual and spatial skills
4. Support development of gross motor skills
5. Aid in digestion and reduces gas
6. Increase opportunities for social interaction and play
7. Provide a change of scenery for baby and caregiver.
Read more about what the experts say about the importance of tummy time.
When to start tummy time with your baby
Tummy time can start from day 1 for your baby. That doesn't mean it will look the same on day 1 as it does at 3 months (more on different tummy time positions for your baby at different ages below).
But the recommendation for your baby is to be doing 30 minutes of tummy time by the time they are 3 months old. As you will find when you first put your baby down on their tummy and hear them get upset about it, that wont happen overnight.
Tummy time should be established in small increments, building up a little more time each day as they grow. So the best way to start is from day 1, putting your baby on their front for even a couple of seconds and building from there will help them get comfortable and start strengthening their muscles.
Read more about the age you should start tummy time with your baby
How to do tummy time with your baby
Tummy time is a simple activity that can be done with your baby while they are awake and supervised. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to do tummy time:
1. Place a soft play mat or blanket on the floor for your baby to lie on. Make sure the surface is clean and free of any small objects that the baby could reach and put in their mouth.
2. Gently place your baby on their stomach, with their arms stretched out in front of them. Try propping them up on their forearms to begin with to help guide them in how to best support themselves.
3. Position yourself next to the baby, and make eye contact and talk to them to keep them engaged. Tummy time can be uncomfortable, so use your own voice and distraction to keep them focused on you rather than the position they're in.
4. Place toys within reach of the baby, such as a mirror or a hanging mobile, to encourage them to lift their head and strengthen their neck muscles. Neck muscle development is improved by helping your baby to look up so position toys or visual cues higher up for them to look at.
5. Start with short sessions of tummy time, no more than a few minutes at a time, and gradually increase the duration as the baby gets stronger and more accustomed to the position. Tummy time really can just be a few seconds to a few minutes in the early days. Sometimes, just counting down from a number will help encourage you that your baby is progressing day to day.
6. Always supervise your baby during tummy time to ensure their safety. As your baby tires and is no longer able to keep their head up, it may drop and connect with the surface they're lying on. If they don't yet have the strength to be able to turn their head to the side, this can lead to them just face planting. Be on hand to pick them up if they get overly distressed or tired out.
7. Tummy time can be done multiple times a day, with breaks in between. Most babies will likely get a bit upset on their tummy as they're not used to the position to begin with. Don't feel like you have to just push through. Pick up your baby and just try again at another time that day.
What should tummy time look like each month
Tummy time for babies at different months can vary as babies develop at different rates, but generally, the following milestones should be achieved during tummy time at different ages:
2 weeks old: At this age, newborns typically spend most of their time sleeping and do not have the neck strength or coordination to do much during tummy time. Introduce them to the position by laying them on top of you as you lay down, or by spending time carrying them round, facing you, with their head resting over your shoulder. If you are placing them down on a surface on their tummy, start with very short sessions, no more than a few seconds at a time.
1 month old: At this age, babies are starting to develop more control over their head and neck movements. During tummy time, they should be able to lift their head briefly and begin to look around. Keep the sessions short and gradually increase the duration as they get stronger.
2 months old: At this age, babies should be able to lift their head and chest off the ground and begin to push up with their arms. They may also begin to reach for toys placed in front of them.
3 months old: By 3 months old, babies should be able to hold their head up and look around while they are on their stomach. They should also be able to push up with their arms and shoulders and begin to develop more control over their movements. This is the perfect time to introduce a sensory play mat that can keep them engaged for longer on their tummy.
4 months old: At this age, babies should be able to lift their chest and head off the ground, and begin to roll over from tummy to back. They might also be able to reach for toys and begin to play with them. Keep using a play mat surrounded by toys to encourage these movements.
6 months old: By 6 months old, babies should be able to sit up with support and will begin to practice crawling. Tummy time will help to build the strength and coordination needed for these milestones.
Read a complete guide to tummy time milestones by month here.
Tummy time tips for success
1. Start early: Introduce tummy time straight away and start using a play mat to make sure your baby has a concerted amount of tummy time by around 2-3 months of age, when their neck and upper body muscles are strong enough to support them.
2. Be consistent: Make tummy time a regular part of your baby's daily routine, aiming for several sessions throughout the day. Having a place or a mat to put them down is helpful for you and for your baby as a reminder of what they need to do.
3. Place toys strategically: Place toys within reach of the baby, such as a mirror or a hanging mobile, to encourage them to lift their head and strengthen their neck muscles. It will also encourage them to start reaching, further developing shoulder muscles and over time will help improve their grasp as well.
4. Supervise closely: Always supervise your baby during tummy time to ensure their safety. But also to make sure they are getting the most out of the time. Encourage your baby with words, distract them with songs and keep re-positioning them to encourage a longer amount of time on their front.
5. Gradually increase the time: Gradually increase the duration of tummy time as the baby gets stronger and more accustomed to the position. The barrier to tummy time should change from being uncomfortable to being bored. Use a sensory play mat to keep tummy time engaging for longer.
6. Change the position: try different positions, such as placing them on their side or even on their back but with their head turned to the side to avoid them getting used to one position. This is particularly helpful in the early days when you're encouraging your baby to begin moving their head about to prevent Positional Plagiocephaly.
7. Seek advice: Ask a GP, pediatrician or physical therapist if you notice any concerning issues or delays in your baby's development
It's important to remember that tummy time is a gradual process and it may take some time for your baby to enjoy it. It's also important to keep in mind that every baby is different and develops at their own pace.
Read more about 6 things to look out for to ensure the best physical development through tummy time with your baby.
How to make tummy time more enjoyable
Here are 5 ways to make tummy time more enjoyable:
1. Make tummy time interactive: Place toys within reach of the baby during tummy time, such as a mirror or a hanging mobile, to capture their attention and encourage them to lift their head.
2. Get down on the floor with your baby during tummy time: Sit or lie down on the floor with the baby during tummy time, making eye contact and talking to them to keep them engaged.
3. Incorporate music into tummy time playtime: Play soothing music or sing songs to the baby during tummy time to make it more enjoyable for both of you.
4. Use a comfortable surface for tummy time: Use a soft play mat for the baby to lie on during tummy time, to make it more comfortable for them and more engaging as well.
5. Gradually increase the duration of tummy time: Start with short sessions of tummy time and gradually increase the duration as the baby gets stronger and more accustomed to the position. This will make the experience less overwhelming for them.
Tummy time positions by age in pictures
Tummy time positions for newborns
Tummy time positions for 2-4 month old babies
Tummy time positions for 4-6 month old babies
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