Tummy Time & Your Baby’s Development

tummy time graphic

Tummy time plays a large role in your baby’s overall health and development. But when should you start? And how long should your baby spend on his or her belly each day? Ozarks Community Hospital/Advantage Therapy physical therapist Jennifer Witt shares specifics below and offers tips to help make tummy time more enjoyable for baby and mom.

“Tummy time.” If you are the parent of an infant, you probably hear this phrase all the time and you probably have questions. Why? When do you start? How long? What if they cry/get mad? These are questions I deal with frequently and here are some of the answers I give parents.

Why Practice Tummy Time

There are too many babies that sit in car seats, cribs, and lay on their backs for too many hours of the day. Needless to say, there are numerous reasons to implement tummy time into your infant’s daily routine!

  • It helps babies achieve developmental milestones (i.e., holding head up, rolling, sitting).
  • It strengthens muscles of the neck and back when infants have to hold their heads up against gravity.
  • It prevents flat spots on the head and allows for proper head shape development.
  • It allows infants to explore their environment from a different perspective.

When You Should Start

Tummy time should be started as soon as possible; even as soon as you get home from the hospital. The earlier you implement it into their daily routine, the less likely they will be to fight against it.  Place your infant on their tummy for short periods of time initially, gradually building up the amount of time they are spending in that position.

Need for Tummy Time Increases with Age

Tummy time should be a daily activity for infants. Again, this routine should be started as soon as you bring your baby home from the hospital. Here is a guide for how long babies should be spending time on their tummies.

  • First couple of weeks: 5 minutes per day
  • 1 month old: 20 minutes per day
  • 2 months old: 30 minutes per day
  • 3 months old: 60 minutes per day
  • 4 months old: 81 minutes per day

Sometimes babies cry during tummy time. Usually, I tell parents not to pick the infants up, unless there is some harm to the little one. I recommend setting a timer for 5 minutes and then the baby can be picked up when the timer goes off.

Making Tummy Time Fun

Nothing makes my little ones cry more than placing them on their bellies! Some babies do great, others, not so much. Again, tummy time should be started as early as possible to get them used to being on their bellies. Here are some ideas for keeping it fun.

  • Get down on the floor with them! It encourages engagement and bonding between the two of you.
  • Place fun toys around them so that they have fun stuff to look at and eventually play with!
  • Use mirrors (baby-proof, of course)! Every baby knows they’re super cute, so they really enjoy looking at themselves in the mirror.
  • If your infant has reflux, try propping them up on a pillow or boppy to take pressure off their tummies.
  • Place the baby on your chest while you’re lying down. This way, they can “talk to you” and still get tummy time.

Jennifer works at OCH in Springfield, Missouri and at OCH Christian County Clinic in Nixa. She received both her Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Missouri State University. She has experience in inpatient, outpatient, home health and pediatric  settings. Her primary interest in physical therapy is pediatrics, specifically the 0-3 age group covering a variety of diagnoses.

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