The Benefits of Tummy Time for Infants

importance of tummy time

By Amanda Boldenow, TLC Development Manager & Parent

A few minutes in tummy time for infants is the equivalent of a few hours sweating it out at the gym for an adult. While on their tummies, babies work hard to lift their head, look left and right, and lift their feet, all movements that help prepare them for holding their head up, rolling over, sitting up, and crawling. With ample tummy time, an infant approaching twelve months should have a rounded head, S curves in the neck and low back, and flexible legs that help move the tot in and out of sitting positions. When a child spends too much time on his or her back (usually in cribs, bouncy seats, swings, or car seats) they risk developing positional plagiocephaly (flattening on the back of the skull), a C curve in the spine that may prevent transitioning to hands and knees to crawl, and tight hips and legs that prevent straightening the knees. Internally, too much time on a baby's back puts excessive pressure on the spine and vision centers of the brain, both of which can be detrimental to development.

TLC's Therapeutic Services Manager, Occupational Therapist Shari Karmen, says:

Tummy time is important for eye-hand coordination, and is a prerequisite for crawling. In the therapy world we are seeing kids with misshapen heads and part of that is because they are put on their back so much. Tummy time is important for shaping the head. The other thing we’re seeing is that babies who don’t spend time on their tummies have difficulty rolling. It takes a lot more work to correct the development delays that happen without tummy time, than to put your child in tummy time for a few minutes a day. There’s a natural progression for infant development, and skipping tummy time and crawling can lead to fine-motor problems and disabilities down the line. For these reasons and more, tummy time is critical for infant development.

Unfortunately, many infants are not fans of tummy time, (the same way I'm not a fan of crunches or push-ups, although adult social stigmas prevents me from crying and screaming while doing them... usually). When a kiddo doesn't like being on their tummy, they won't hesitate to let you know. Regardless, parents and guardians should persevere in tummy time for healthy development.

The good news is that there are a variety of ways to practice tummy time besides laying baby on the floor. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting tummy time as soon as baby is home from the hospital. Sessions can be as short as 30 seconds to one minute in the beginning. By the time baby is two months old, try to have increased tummy time sessions to a minimum of three five-minute sessions per day. Fifteen minutes of tummy time per day is a good rule of thumb as babies age past two months, but try to encourage longer playtime and enjoyment while baby is on their tummy through play and engagement, working up to 40 to 60 minutes of tummy time daily.

How to Have Tummy Time With Your Infant

Place a clean blanket, baby gym, or mat on the floor and place baby on his tummy. Some baby gyms come with small, crescent shaped pillows to place under baby's chest and elbows to help prop them up, but the same effect can be achieved with a small, rolled towel used a bolster, although this isn't always necessary.

To make tummy time fun, place toys that engage your baby on the floor. Shake rattles, crinkle sensory toys, or roll rainsticks across the floor to encourage baby to reach, grasp, and roll toward the objects. "You can also place a regular closet mirror on its side on the floor for babies to see their reflection while on their tummy," Shari says. 

Each stretch, roll, lift, and scoot helps baby develop muscles needed for movement and head stability. To make tummy time safe, always supervise an infant on their tummy, make sure their breathing passages are unobstructed by pillows or blankets, and make sure they are not on a high surface they could roll off of.

Different Tummy Time Positions to Try

  1. Tummy to floor: the traditional tummy time placement, where baby is on his or her tummy on a flat, safe surface.
  2. Tummy cuddle: place baby on your chest or tummy while laying down on a bed or couch. Be sure to hold baby by firmly.
  3. Reverse football hold: you may be familiar with the football hold from breast or bottle feeding. In the reverse, have baby's tummy down against your arm and nestle them close to your body. 
  4. Tummy lap time: Place baby face down across your knees while sitting, with a hand holding baby steady. 

Does your baby like or dislike tummy time? What do you do to help make tummy time fun and beneficial for your baby?