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When to Start Tummy Time With Your Baby -- And How to Do It

Rebecca Desfosse
April 8, 2015

Putting your baby on his tummy for a few minutes each day will help him strengthen his muscles and eventually crawl. Here's how and when to get started with tummy time.

You've heard that babies need tummy time to learn to crawl and walk -- but what does that entail? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), placing your baby on his back to sleep reduces his risk of SIDS, but he still needs time on his tummy when he's up and ready to play. "Tummy time helps infants to develop strength and body awareness," says Diana Henry, a pediatric occupational therapist. "It also promotes gross motor skills, such as rolling and crawling, and fine motor skills, such as grasping."

when to start tummy time
Below are tips for when to start tummy time, and how to get your baby used to being on his stomach.
 

  • The Benefits of Tummy Time
    Tummy time is one of the most important ways for a baby to develop the strength she needs to eventually do the things she'll want and need to do as a toddler. "When infants lift their heads, they gain strength in their necks and shoulders," Henry says. "And as they shift their weight on to their hands, it begins to open up their fisted hands." This means that babies can begin to grasp and hold objects better.

    According to Dr. Hannah Chow-Johnson, assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine's Department of Pediatrics, tummy time can help prevent plagiocephaly (the flattening of the back of the skull) by keeping your baby off his back.
     
  • When to Start Tummy Time
    It's never too early to start your child on her tummy, even if you've just arrived home from the hospital. "Even newborns can lift their heads up briefly, so have some tummy time right from the start," Dr. Chow-Johnson says. The Mayo Clinic says to start newborns on tummy time by laying them across your lap for a few minutes two to three times a day.

    For more tips on taking care of your new baby, check out Taking Care of a Newborn.

    According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, you should only put your baby on her tummy when she is awake and alert. And you should never leave her unattended. Once your baby is a few months old, she can graduate to a flat, solid floor for tummy time.
     
  • Getting Your Baby Used to Tummy Time
    It may take some time for your baby to get used to being on his tummy, but persevere because it will only get easier (and more enjoyable) for him. Don't give up if he fusses or cries. "The more you avoid putting him on his tummy, the harder it is for him to develop sufficient control to be more comfortable in this position," Henry says.

    Incorporate brief periods of tummy time throughout your baby's daily routine. The Mayo Clinic says you can increase the frequency and length of time your baby spends on her stomach as she gets older. For babies that are 3 to 4 months old, you should aim for at least 20 minutes of tummy time throughout each day.
     
  • Try Some Fun Activities
    To help your baby get used to being on his tummy, join in on the fun. Lay down with him and encourage him with happy faces and a soothing tone of voice. To keep your baby engaged, prop a board book open for him to see, or place interesting toys and colorful stuffed animals around him to capture his attention. Put a mirror on the floor so he can look at his reflection. Get on his level and sing songs to him, or play fun games like peekaboo. Be sure to encourage family, friends and your child's caregivers to join him during tummy time, as well.
     

If your little one consistently screams and cries while on his belly, despite some practice (and your best distraction efforts), talk to your pediatrician.

Rebecca Desfosse is a freelance writer specializing in parenting and family topics.

* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.

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