Occupational Therapy

Article by: Kylie Hinton, OTR

Tummy time is a period of time in which your baby plays while one their belly. This is crucial to development and important to incorporate into your child’s routine, here’s why. 

What is tummy time?

Tummy time is the period during the day your baby spends awake on his/her stomach.
Due to the recommendations of babies sleeping on their back, babies need enough SUPERVISED tummy time during the hours they are awake. Tummy time is one of your baby’s first exercises and can begin as a newborn, best to increase time as baby is lifting and controlling head. You may hear your therapist refer to your baby as being in the prone position, but this just means time spent on tummy.

Why is tummy time so important?

As discussed previously, babies spend their sleeping hours on their back, so it is important for muscle and vision development to spend time during the day on their tummy. Tummy time is important for development of the neck, back, and shoulder muscles.
When your baby is positioned on their tummy, they begin to independently lift their head and work those muscles. Also, your baby is seeing his/her world at a different view (eye level view) which will help them develop their visual skills. Tummy time also helps build a foundation and strengthen the muscles for achieving motor milestones of rolling, sitting, and crawling. The skills learned in tummy time are crucial for later development as well, the time spent weight bearing when your baby starts pushing up on hands builds muscles for school age tasks such as handwriting, cutting, and grasping later in life.
Tummy time can help prevent positional plagiocephaly (flat spots on back or side of head) and positional torticollis (stiffening of neck muscles making it difficult for baby to turn head to one side). Tummy time is important for babies that have these conditions as well.

Why does my baby cry during tummy time?

Some babies love tummy time and it is a fight to keep them on their back to sleep. While other babies cry when positioned on their tummy. Tummy time is hard work for babies early on, especially babies that may have weakness or stiff muscles. Your baby has to work against gravity to hold their head up, starting as a newborn your baby has not had to work these muscles yet so it can be challenging. Until your baby can start rolling over and feeling more independent, your baby may feel trapped in this position and start to cry for help. Pay attention to signs that your baby may be becoming tired such as crying or resting head on floor. Tummy time can be successful by starting in short increments of 1-2 minutes several times a day and increasing as tolerance and strength increases. As your baby gets older aim for at least an hour a day for tummy time and continue until baby starts crawling successfully.

Fun Activities and Tips

  • Position baby on tummy for supervised play time
  • Keep fun and interactive
  • Do not push baby to continue if screaming and crying, try again later and work on making environment calming
  • Try different positioning techniques

Getting Started

  • Start with infant placed on your chest or across your legs
  • Once baby gains better head control place on blanket on floor, roll up a thin towel or blanket under armpits/arms to make a bolster that will provide extra support, make sure babies arms are over bolster with it against chest and chin positioned in front with encouragement of holding head up
  • Use a boppy pillow for a slight incline
  • Can use an exercise ball, position baby with chest/belly on ball and hold on to baby while encouraging lifting head and pushing up on arms

Activities to Try

  • Increase your baby’s ability to reach and play, hold a toy within reach or place toys to explore around baby
  • Engage the senses with bright toys, tactile toys (textured toys), musical toys
  • Engage child with singing, music, and encouragement
  • Use a mirror in front of your baby
  • Lighted and musical toys are great for gaining baby’s attention (hold in front and to the side, and up in air to encourage developing head control and pushing up on arms)
  • Best to not place baby on belly right after eating or while sleepy

Developmental Milestones

  • 1 month-baby should be turning head during tummy time and attempting to lift head
  • 2-3 months– controlling head better, moving head side to side, starting to visually track toys by following with eyes and head, tolerating more time, tolerating tummy time on floor, and starting to put weight on elbows
  • 4-5 months-pushing up on forearms and bringing chest off floor, lifting head to track toys and noises in room, starting to push up on hands with straight arms, tolerating 30 mins to hour of tummy time
  • 6-8 plus months-reach up high for toys with one arm, rolling, starting to creep or crawl, refusing tummy time due to wanting to move around more

Try our Free Online Screening Tool

If you are not in therapy and you are wondering if your child may be falling behind with sensory processing, fine motor skills, speech and language or developmental milestones, please try our online screening tool. You will be given a survey of age-appropriate milestones for speech, language, gross motor skills, fine motor skills and sensory processing for children ages 1-6.