Before we get into the benefits of tummy time, it’s important to underline that when putting your baby to sleep you should always put them on their back to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). When we talk about tummy time, we’re only referring to a time when your baby is awake and you are supervising him or her.
Now that we’ve got housekeeping out of the way, let’s dive into the benefits of tummy time!
Placing your baby on his or her stomach for tummy time is important for helping him or her develop their upper body strength including the neck, arms, back and shoulder muscles, but it will also help build strength in the legs, promote their motor skills and prevent positional plagiocephaly (when the back of a baby’s head develops flat spots, which has become more common since it has now been shown that back-sleeping is safest for babies).
Parents will also notice that during tummy time babies will often reach and pivot, two skills that are important to help them develop crawling skills. Tummy time has, in fact, consistently been shown to be key for infant physical development. Research has also shown that tummy time has been associated with a healthier body mass index (BMI).
When should tummy time begin?
Like with many things, your baby might not like tummy time at first. That’s ok! It’s important to stick with it and you’ll see improvements in how receptive your baby is. Parents can and should start with it as soon as they bring their baby home, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Aim to do this for a few minutes a day at first (3-5 minutes). Then, over the next few months, gradually increase the time and frequency until the baby has about an hour of tummy time a day.
The AAP recommends the below activities while the baby is on his or her stomach:
Place a toy just out of reach during playtime to get the baby to reach for it.
Place toys in a circle around the baby so that he will reach for the toys and develop muscles for scooting on his belly, crawling and rolling over.
Lie down and place the baby on your chest, keeping your hands on the baby so he does not roll off. The baby might not be able to lift his head yet, but alternate the baby’s head position to prevent him from developing a preferred position.
Make tummy time part of your daily routine. Place the baby on his stomach for a minute every time you change his diaper.