The ABC's of Tummy Time for Babies

Last update on Aug. 17, 2016.

The ABC's of Tummy Time for Babies

While the concept of tummy time seems basic, the act of encouraging your baby to spend time on her tummy is extremely important. This is how she will develop her head, neck, shoulder and arm muscles, which will build her motor skills. She'll use these muscles to roll over, sit up, crawl and eventually pull to stand up.

Did you know your baby can start tummy time when she's only a few days old? Yep, it's true! Obviously she may only want to rest on her tummy (with your supervision) for a few seconds, but that's just fine. In the very beginning, your job is to acclimate her to enjoying time on tummy.

In 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics began telling parents to sleep their babies on their backs as part of a campaign to prevent SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). By 1994, the "Back to Sleep" program and education was working, but doctors realized babies were missing 10-12 hours per day in a prone position.

In order to give babies those important hours on their tummies, tummy time was born. If you think about how much time newborns spend on their backs -- in the car seat, in the swing, in the crib --- it makes sense that they need to spend time on their tummies too.

Tummy time can be a fun playtime for babies as they get bigger, but in the beginning, don't be alarmed if your baby doesn't like the sensation at first. A good rule of thumb is to do tummy time about an hour after your baby's feeding to make sure she doesn't feel uncomfortable on a full stomach.

If she protests after a few seconds, rub her back to encourage her to stay in that position. She'll try to hold up her head, which is exactly what she needs to do. Some babies feel more comfy if you lay or recline on your back and lay her on your tummy. You can gently assist her to make sure she's comfy on her favorite blanket or as she gets bigger, you can use a tummy pillow, so she is slightly elevated and she can see things around her.

You can shoot for 3-5 minutes of tummy time twice a day. Some days she may do it longer, and some she may not. Every day is different. You don't need to force it if she's extremely unhappy about it. I would try it when my babies were fresh and happy after their naps. When they were tired or hungry, they were already grumpy and being put on their stomachs was typically the last straw to a big meltdown. When they were perky, they'd stay on their tummies longer, and the whole experience was much more positive for everyone.

By the time she's 3 -4 months old, she should have some neck strength and head control, so tummy time becomes a great time to share picture books, use a special tummy time mat with colors and toys or the whole family can do tummy time together. When my sons were babies and we would all lay on the floor together, he thought that was very amusing!

Tummy time is big exercise for a tiny tot, so if she starts to get sleepy, make sure your put her back in her crib on her back. She will need to continue sleeping on her back until she is able to roll over on her own.