A Parent's Guide To Tum, Tum, Tummy Time: When Baby Needs To Start And How To Do It

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New parenthood comes with many questions: How did this seven-pound cutie fit in my belly? Is my baby bowlegged? Does my baby have kneecaps? Why is my baby arching her back? The questions quite literally never end. And not just questions; you’ll hear many confusing terms everyone expects you to understand. Like, tummy time. After having a baby, you’ll hear a lot about tummy time. A lot. But, what is tummy time, exactly? How do you help baby do it, and why is it so important? And when do you start? Don’t stress. This primer will become your go-to source and is replete with tummy time tips and advice.

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What is tummy time?

First things first, what is it? Tummy time is a good exercise for your baby as it helps with their motor development and strengthens their muscles. That said, tummy time can be a confusing time for a baby. Since tummy time helps build and strengthen the baby’s neck and shoulder muscles, they may not feel confident being in a stomach-down position at first. That’s why parents must know the correct way to explore this developmental phase.

When to Start Tummy Time

Many pediatricians suggest starting tummy time soon after your baby comes home from the hospital, around the two-week mark. Tummy time will eventually help your baby start crawling, so it’s good to do early on. Again, your baby may hate the positioning. Despite their cries, don’t worry — it’s a relatively normal response. Other babies will enjoy the change, so it’s hard to tell how your newborn may react. It is essential to be there with your child during tummy time; having you close will reassure that everything is okay.

Try to do tummy time when your baby is well-rested but not immediately after feeding; right after a diaper change will also work.

How long should newborn tummy time be?

Like all new exercises, you can work your way up to longer periods when your newborn is on their tummy. You can also break up the time that your baby is on the floor. In general, you should try and get at least 15 minutes of tummy time per day. You can do five minutes in the morning, afternoon, and evening in-between your baby’s naps to help break it up and make it less challenging for your newborn.

How to do Tummy Time

You don’t need a ton of accessories, but it’s best to be prepared. Some parents opt to do tummy time in a play gym made for babies. There are plenty of good baby playmats for newborns that will give you both a safe and comfortable space. These indoor solutions are perfect as most come with plenty of colorful distractions that’ll help keep your baby entertained. If you don’t have one yet, even a clean towel will work. You’ll want to make sure your floor is clear of any dirt or debris.

Some parents also feel like pillows may help give their baby some extra support. If your baby is having a tough time, try using a nursing pillow, baby lounger, or another supportive method. Just make sure you keep close attention on your baby during this time. Eventually, you can take the pillow away as your little one gets stronger and more confident.

Putting some toys or friendly items around your baby may also be helpful, especially for slightly older infants. To start, place your baby on their belly and make sure they’re constantly supervised. If your baby starts to cry, it may feel alarming. Make sure to be soothing and supportive, and congratulate your baby with soft praise during and after each session. Every baby is different, but it’ll get easier for both of you with a bit of practice and modification.

Tummy Time Exercises

Although tummy time is a great way for babies to build their developing muscles, some newborns would rather not. If your baby isn’t feeling it, switch things up a bit with these tummy time exercises.

  • Join in on the fun and put your baby on top of you while you’re lying down so you’re chest to chest. On top of being adorable, newborns are also incredibly curious (aka nosey), and they want to look at your face. Their desire to stare at you will 1) give them something interesting to look at and 2) help them build their neck muscles.
  • Or you can sit on the floor with your legs out and have your baby’s chest lean against them. In this position you to rub their back and soothe them if they’re crying during tummy time.
  • Grab an exercise ball or any ball that’s bigger than your child and put them on top of it with their stomachs touching the ball. It helps to put a fuzzy blanket on the ball first, so it’s more comfortable. Place your hand on the infant and the ball, and slowly roll it backward or give it a little bounce. This is a way more exciting form of tummy time.
  • Your little one will love Baby Airplane. Get on your back with your knees up. Put your baby on your shins and make sure their chest is on your legs. This position gives babies a unique perspective, so get ready for lots of laughs. Not only is this a great stretch for you, but it encourages babies to strengthen their neck muscles and head control. (In this position, always be ready for a quick turnaround just in case baby spits up.)

Benefits of Tummy Time

Besides the stronger core and neck muscles, tummy time strengthens a baby’s head support. In turn, this can also help prevent babies from getting flat spots on their heads. Since babies don’t move too much after birth, sometimes baby’s flat spots may occur if they’re in one position for too long. One of the main goals for tummy time is for a baby to hold and lift their head. With tummy time, they’re working the muscles to make this happen sooner than later. This developmental exercise might also become less scary and intimidating for your baby when it does happen. Being able to lift their head fully usually happens in babies who are four months old.

That said, don’t worry if your little one’s head is still shaky, Mama. All babies and kids are different and reach developmental milestones at their own pace. If you feel like your baby is behind motor skills, speak with your pediatrician about other steps to take. They’re your best resource when it comes to diagnosing any issues or setbacks.

In addition to being an excellent exercise for babies, tummy time can even help with gas. Unfortunately, gassiness is part of an infant’s day to day, so if you’d like to help eliminate some of that discomfort, place baby on their stomach. The wriggling and stretching they do on the floor or bed massages their organs, which encourages bowel movements and burping.

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