Tummy time is important for babies to develop their fine and gross motor skills. It helps strengthen their neck, shoulder, arm and back muscles, which are needed to move around. From their tummies, babies learn to push up, roll over, sit up and eventually stand.
Babies can see the world from different angles while they are on their tummies, which is good for brain development. As babies’ skulls are still soft, tummy time also helps prevent flat spots developing on their head.
When to introduce tummy time
Start tummy time soon after birth by lying your newborn skin-to-skin on your chest. From their first day home from hospital, play with your baby on her tummy for a couple of minutes two to three times each day. A great time to do this is after changing her diaper or when she wakes from a nap.
Many babies are unsettled at first and only able to stay on their tummies for a minute or two. Always choose a time when your baby is content and alert – tummy time will be more successful when she has a clean diaper and isn’t tired or hungry.
Babies get better if they can practise a few times a day so don’t give up trying. By the time they are 2- 3-months-old, babies can usually lift their heads to look around and enjoy 10-15 minutes of tummy time a couple of times a day.
Try a variety of tummy positions
Use every occasion with your baby as tummy time and choose a variety of positions throughout the day. For example,
- Carry baby over your forearm rather than the traditional cradle hold.
- Put baby on her tummy on your lap.
- Place her on a firm, safe surface like on a blanket on the floor. Lie on the floor in front of her so she can watch your face. Use the opportunity to talk and sing to her. Hold a mirror in front of her to capture her attention.
- Encourage dad to lie on his back and place the baby on his chest. Baby will lift her head and use her arms to try and see his face.
- Make a habit of placing your baby on her tummy for a couple of minutes during diaper changes. Use a toy to attract her attention. Never leave a baby unattended on a change table though, even for a second.
Remember – back to sleep, tummy to play. Never leave babies alone during tummy time. If baby falls asleep, place him on his back to continue sleeping.
Australian Sonia Cahill is a busy mum of three. When she’s not looking after her girls, she works as an editor and pen-for-hire.