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Tummy Time for Baby: 5 Important Things to Know

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As a parent to a newborn, it goes without saying that you want to do everything you possibly can to help your baby develop optimally. One way you can aid your baby’s growth and development is by giving them plenty of supervised tummy time. 

What is tummy time for a baby and why should you do it? Tummy time simply refers to placing your baby on his or her stomach to help them build stronger muscles for movement. 

In addition to preventing flat spots on the back of your baby’s head, tummy time is also associated with a slew of positive health outcomes for your little one. According to a recent systematic review published in the journal Pediatrics, tummy time is positively associated with motor skills, cognitive development and cardiovascular health. 

However, there is more to tummy time than many parents think. That’s why we’re sharing a few important things all parents (and babysitters!) should know about tummy time—and what to do if your little one prefers to be belly-up.

1. You Can Practice Tummy Time From Birth

“When should I start tummy time?” is one of the first questions new parents have regarding tummy time. The answer: sooner than you might think! 

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), babies can start tummy time as soon as they come home from the hospital. To ease your newborn into it, place him or her on your chest for a few minutes at a time—preferably, after a recent diaper change or a nap.

baby girl crawling holding blanket

2. Only Practice Tummy Time When Your Baby Is Awake

You’ve probably been told countless times by your doctor that your baby should be put to sleep on his or her back, and for good reason. According to research from the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies who sleep on their stomachs have an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) compared to babies who sleep on their backs or sides.

As such, tummy time should always be practiced while your baby is awake. If your baby falls asleep during tummy time, gently switch them to their back position so they can nap safely.

3. Start with Shorter Sessions

Tummy time is essentially your baby’s first-ever workout. Remember, they’re working their undeveloped muscles against gravity to keep their head up. That’s hard work!

Since they aren’t yet accustomed to so much physical activity, make sure that you ease your baby into tummy time by starting with short sessions. Aim for two to three sessions a day, with each session lasting 3-5 minutes. As your baby gets stronger, you can gradually increase the length of each session.

4. Your Baby May Not Like It Initially

Does your baby get fussy when you place him or her on their tummy? Don’t worry! This is normal! Many parents find that tummy time inevitably turns into crying time.

There are a few things you can do to make tummy time more enjoyable for your little one. First and foremost, start with a well-rested and happy baby.

After your baby wakes up from a nap, change their diaper. Keep them comfortable by dressing them in a super-soft bodysuit before placing them on the floor.

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If your baby continues to cry, try rolling up a baby blanket and tucking it under their chest to provide additional support. This will give your baby motivation to keep his or her head up on their own. 

infant in yellow onesie

5. Turn Tummy Time into Play Time

When it comes to physical activity, most people need some type of distraction—such as a workout playlist or a television show—to help keep them motivated. Likewise, babies can also benefit from a little entertainment during tummy time.

To make tummy time for your baby more fun and exciting, join them on the floor and play with them. Distract them from their strenuous task by making goofy faces and cooing noises. Place your baby’s favorite toys on the floor and help him or her play with them.

If toys aren’t doing the trick, try placing a mirror in front of your baby. Babies love mirrors, even if they don’t know yet that they’re staring at their own reflection!

Practice Makes Perfect

To recap, babies should practice tummy time right when they get home from the hospital. When practicing tummy time, babies should be awake and under careful supervision. If your baby fusses every time you place him or her on their belly, try not to get too discouraged. Keep practicing and, eventually, your baby will get stronger and learn to enjoy their daily tummy time.

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