Tummy time is essential for development and involves placing baby on the stomach for play. The primary purpose is to encourage the strength of the muscles that are necessary to lift and hold the head. When a baby is positioned on the tummy, it is vital they are awake, alert and under constant parental supervision. An important rule to remember is ‘Back to Sleep. Tummy to Play’.
The benefits of tummy time include strengthening the muscles in the neck, shoulders, arms and back. Tummy time encourages upper body strength necessary for the development of skills needed to crawl, roll, sit and stand. It also helps to prevent flat spots forming on baby’s head that can occur from lying in the same position on the back. Time spent positioned on the stomach improves motor skills by promoting the use of muscles to complete an action which is crucial for visual and sensory development.
Tummy time is recommended to begin as a newborn and continued throughout the first year. As a midwife, I often suggest to families that tummy time for a newborn can be incorporated following a bath when parents are towel drying the back. This can also be attended by positioning a newborn over the parents’ lap or chest. Families are amazed at how early a newborn tries to lift the head by pushing up with their arms. At three months of age, most babies can lift their head 45 degrees when leaning on their forearms and at four months, this may increase to 90 degrees when pushing up on their hands. Other ideal times for tummy placement include after baby wakes or following a nappy change. Make the most of any opportunity when baby is alert, content and most likely to be receptive of tummy time.
As a newborn, start with a few minutes at a time and slowly build up to longer sessions as baby grows. It is suggested as a guide to aim for at least an hour of tummy time total per day by three months of age. This hour can be broken up into shorter frequent activities rather than completing the hour at once. Creating a comfortable area on the floor surrounded by toys may assist duration and baby’s enjoyment. As baby begins to appreciate tummy time, longer and more frequent sessions throughout the day can be incorporated into baby’s play routine. Always respond to cues and never force a baby to complete tummy time if they are upset or unsettled. If baby becomes restless, try changing the activity, location or lie down and place baby on your chest, providing a distraction by singing, massaging the feet or rubbing the back. It is normal for some babies to protest due to the tiring and strenuous task of working against gravity to keep the head upright. Slowly increase tummy time each day until it becomes an enjoyable part of baby’s daily routine.
Safety awareness to ensure baby protection and welfare must be considered when tummy time is attended. Position baby on a low, solid surface such as a blanket on the floor to eliminate the risk of rolling off a sofa or bed. Individual surroundings, circumstances, and environmental risk factors such as pets and other children must be identified to keep baby safe. Never leave baby unattended on their stomach as this may increase the likelihood of suffocation. If baby demonstrates tiredness or falls asleep on the stomach, cease tummy time and place baby on the back for sleep.
Tips to remember:
- Choose a time when baby is happy, alert and interested in surroundings.
- Lie alongside baby and talk, sing, or provide massage to demonstrate they have company and are not alone. This encourages interaction and bonding.
- Use a non-breakable mirror so baby can see their reflection.
- Incorporate the use of safe toys, moving them from side to side to encourage baby to reposition the head, focus eyes and maintain concentration.
- Change locations including outdoors on a rug in warm weather to enhance enjoyment and duration of tummy time.
- Tummy time should be a pleasurable daily routine. Respond to cues and cease tummy time if baby becomes tired, unsettled, or distressed.
- Never allow baby to sleep on the stomach. Babies must be placed on their back for sleeping to adhere to recommendations to reduce the risk of Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI).
- Read the Mother Midwife Safe Sleeping blog for more information.
Back to Sleep. Tummy to Play.