Tummy time for babies: When to start and what to do

Tummy time for babies: When to start and what to do

Tummy time refers to the practice of placing an infant on their stomach while they are awake and supervised. It was first recommended in the mid 1990s in response to a widespread campaign that encouraged parents to let their babies sleep on their back to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Tummy time is now recommended by most (if not all) pediatricians to help babies strengthen their muscles, prevent flat spots on their head, and prepare them for more advanced movements.

Why is it important to do tummy time? 

Tummy time is an important precursor to rolling, sitting, and crawling. While babies practice tummy time, they are encouraged to push up off the ground, which mimics the action for crawling. They also develop the strength to hold their head up and turn their neck. It’s also a great way for babies to play on their play mat with interesting tummy time toys. 

Stage one of tummy time: 0 to 2 months

Newborn baby doing tummy time

Yes, you can begin tummy time the moment your baby arrives home! However, at this age, it may not look like the tummy time you are imagining. The main goal of tummy time for newborns is to get them comfortable laying on their tummy for a few minutes at a time. At this stage, aim for 10 to 20 minutes of tummy time every day.

At this stage, your newborn will likely:

  • Rest their head on the ground 
  • Have their back slightly rounded 
  • Have their arms tucked next to their body 
  • Move their feet as if they want to crawl
  • Have difficulty lifting their head off the ground

Tummy time tips and activities for this stage

  • Start with short sessions (30 seconds to 1 minute) 
  • Do 5-10 sessions throughout the day
  • Turn your baby’s head to one side and periodically switch sides 
  • Use high-contrast visual toys to keep them entertained 
  • Try tummy time off the ground (E.g. place them on your body)

Stage two of tummy time: 3 to 4 months

3 to 4 month baby doing tummy time

As your baby gets stronger and more used to tummy time, they will begin to push up onto their arms and lift their head off the ground. The main goal at this stage is to improve their arm strength and neck stability. At this stage, aim for 30 to 40 minutes of tummy time every day.

At this stage, your baby will likely:

  • Lift their head at a 45 degree angle off the ground for a few seconds
  • Rest on their elbows 
  • Straighten their legs all the way
  • Still rest the head on the ground when they are tired 

Tummy time tips and activities for this stage

  • Continue to provide high-contrast toys for them to look at
  • Provide toys that make sounds to get their attention
  • Do tummy time on an exercise ball (with support)
  • Spread your baby’s favorite toys in an arch in front of them

Stage three of tummy time: 5 to 6 months

5 to 6 month baby doing tummy time

By 5 months, your baby should be able to push their chest off the ground for brief periods. As they continue to strengthen their muscles, we can slowly encourage them to reach out and grab nearby toys. At this stage, aim for one hour of tummy time every day.

At this stage, your baby will likely:

  • Use their arms to push their chest off the ground
  • Hold their neck stable and look around the room
  • Reach for nearby toys with one hand 
  • Lift their arms and legs off the ground as if they are ‘swimming’

Tummy time tips and activities for this stage

  • Provide toys that move to entice your baby to reach out 
  • Let your baby lie on your chest and lift them up 
  • Place toys with interesting textures in front of your baby 
  • Do tummy time with your baby by getting down on their eye level
  • Encourage your baby to roll from their back to their side

Tummy Time Chart and Calculator

When to start tummy time? How much tummy time does your baby need as they get older? How many sessions of tummy time do they need a day? Here’s a simple calculation you can use that is recommended by experts. 

Total daily tummy time = baby’s age in months x 10 minutes 

Length of each tummy time session = whatever your baby can tolerate without being too fussy

Total number of tummy time sessions = total daily tummy time / length of each tummy time session

Tummy time recommendation chart

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