Putting your baby to sleep on their back is recommended until they’re 1 year old to ensure their safety. Because of this, many new parents may feel worried or unsure about placing their baby face-down at any time. So, maybe you just learned how to sleep train your baby but are worried about tummy time. These concerns are normal, however, tummy time activity is an important activity for your baby’s health and development.
When do babies start tummy time?
Whether your little one is 6 days old or 6 months old, safely and appropriately incorporating a tummy time session into your baby’s playtime will help them grow and reach developmental milestones.1 If you’re unsure about when to start a tummy time activity or how to do it, we’ve put together this helpful guide from our classes to make sure you’re comfortable with the idea of a tummy time session before your little one performs her first precious push-up.
Tummy Time Basics
At this point, you might be wondering, What is tummy time? Tummy time is simply baby’s playtime on their stomach. While tummy time for a newborn will look different than tummy time for a 6 month old baby, there are certain rules that always apply to tummy time:
- Never leave a baby unattended
- Never place a baby on a raised surface like a bed or a couch
- Keep the baby awake during tummy time
Beyond those basic rules, there isn’t a right or wrong way to approach tummy time. You can sing, play with toys, or simply gaze at each other while the baby is on their stomach.
The Benefits of Tummy Time
While allowing your baby ample tummy time may seem optional, it’s actually incredibly important for a variety of reasons. For instance, tummy time:
Helps prevent flat spots – Sometimes called positional plagiocephaly, flat spots can occur on the back of a baby’s head when they spend too much time lying on their backs.2 Although flat spots improve with time and growth, practicing tummy time will promote the normal shaping of the back of the baby's head.
Encourages discovery – From discovering their own body (hey, hands) to looking at the world from a new perspective, babies use tummy time to learn about their environment. Encouraging your baby to be curious about their surroundings will give them confidence and understanding as they grow.
Strengthens needed muscles – When babies are on their stomachs, they use different muscles than when they’re on their backs. In particular, the neck, arm, and shoulder muscles are engaged as your baby looks at the world from this tummy-down position. These groups of muscles are vital when a baby begins to crawl, so developing them early gives a little boost to that process.
How Soon Can Baby Start Tummy Time?
Ultimately, it’s never too early to try tummy time. If you have a newborn, try a little tummy time at first to get them comfortable with being on their stomach. Some tips for newborn tummy time that can make this new event more fun are:
- Try tummy time right after a nap or diaper change when baby is most awake
- Don’t try right after feeding as the pressure on baby’s belly might be uncomfortable
- Go tummy-to-tummy with your baby at first rather than on the floor
Timing Tummy Time by Age
Of course, like all baby skills, tummy time has to be learned, so a newborn baby should only spend about 2–3 minutes on their tummy at first. By doing this exercise 3 times a day, your baby will soon be comfortable with tummy time and even look forward to it.
As your baby grows, so will their stamina for tummy time. You will begin to see them enjoy it more and want more of it. Let your baby guide the process. If they seem uncomfortable with long sessions of tummy time, keep them short and sweet.
Some tips for a successful tummy time at this age are:
- Don’t try when baby is sleepy, hungry, or gassy
- Bring out a colorful toy and entertainment (more on that below)
- Engage with the baby the whole time. This could be by:
By 6 months old, your baby can be doing up to 90 minutes of tummy time a day. However, this should not be all at once. Broken up into manageable chunks of time, babies can benefit greatly from short tummy times, as well as slightly longer ones.
Tummy time will naturally fade away between 7 to 9 months as the baby learns to creep, crawl, and scoot on their own. At this point, you’ll probably be missing tummy time as you sprint around after your curious cruiser.
Making Tummy Time Fun by Age
Tummy time should be fun. Depending on how old your child is, you can find new ways to help your baby engage with their environment and observe the world around them during this exciting exercise:
Newborn – At this stage, your baby is still pretty sleepy and won’t engage much for tummy-to-tummy or tummy-to-chest time. They might even curl butt-upwards against you. However, just being together, sharing body warmth, is enough for this type of time to be meaningful.
1 Month – By 1 month old, your baby may be able to momentarily lift their head and turn it to the side during tummy time. By 1 month, you can also consider moving from tummy-to-tummy time to floor-based tummy time if it seems right for your child. When trying floor tummy-time, you can either place your baby on a soft, clean blanket or on a mat specifically made for tummy time exercises. Either way, make sure the material is never bunched around the baby’s face and that you supervise the baby the entire time.
2 Months – Around 2 months old, your baby will be able to lift and hold their head upright around 45 degrees. They may even begin using their arms while face down. This is when tummy time starts to get fun. Begin introducing soft and colorful toys to your tummy time routine. Although your baby won’t be reaching for them quite yet, the visual stimulation will make this time more fun for both of you.
3 Months – A baby should begin to lift their head to around 90 degrees during this stage. They may even begin to do some rolling from tummy to back and around again. Staying with them is especially important as their mobility increases. And, remember, to keep your baby safe, never do tummy time on any sort of elevated surface.
Keeping your baby entertained on their blanket or mat will be easier if you have a variety of colorful toys available. Some ideas are:
- Teething rings or chews
- Soft, squeaky toys
- Soft mirrors
- Musical toys
- Lighted toys
But beware, you’ve reached the stage where your baby is going to be putting just about everything into their mouth, so make sure all your tummy time toys are safe for play. That means no loose parts or choking hazards are allowed.
4 Months – The ability to lift their chest off the ground begins to happen for babies around 4 months old. This is when they’ll start doing mini push-ups, working those all-important stomach, arm, and chest muscles in anticipation of crawling. They may also be reaching for their toys now, exploring their tummy time zones with their hands, as well as with their eyes.
5 Months – Oh boy—here comes movement. At this stage, your baby is likely rolling, scooting, and creeping around their tummy time environment, trying to get a look (or a taste) of what’s around. By now, you’ve probably noticed that they prefer certain toys and reject others entirely. Use their preferences as a guide to buying toys that stimulate and engage your budding musician, artist, or tinkerer.
6 Months – By 6 months, tummy time might be looking a lot like crawling. All the pre-crawling skills that your baby needs—pushups, arches, pivots, rocking on the stomach, or even on hands and knees—should begin to happen. This is actually a really good time for you to do some tummy time as well. Get down on your belly and look for hazards that your baby might encounter once they become mobile. Check for unplugged outlets, hanging cords, and open cabinets. Block off rooms and stairs where your baby could have an accident.
To keep this time fun and engaging, your baby is going to want a lot of attention. Working on words and songs together is a great idea during tummy times for these older babies.
7 to 9 Months – Sometime during this age range, your precious tummy time together is going to fade away. Your intrepid explorer is going to have the skills and curiosity to begin crawling, climbing, and eventually toddling around your house. While some of their early toys might still be engaging, you may find this is a good time to introduce more advanced fun to your play together. Try musical instruments, interactive puzzle toys, and textured balls.
Get All Your Tummy Time Tools at Monica + Andy
Whether you have a newborn trying their first tummy time or a 6-month-old grabbing at all the tummy time toys they can reach, Monica + Andy has the tools you need to make these precious and essential times even more memorable.
From cloud-soft tummy time blankets made from GOTS certified organic cotton to interactive play mats that engage your baby’s mind, we can help build your tummy time zone into a special place for both you and baby. Even better, our community courses and resources are available to answer any questions you may have, from tummy time to toddling. For all your baby needs, choose Monica + Andy.
- "Back to Sleep, Tummy to Play."American Academy of Pediatrics. January 20, 2017. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep/Pages/Back-to-Sleep-Tummy-to-Play.aspx
- "Flat Head Syndrome."Nemours KidsHealth. September 2019. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/positional-plagiocephaly.html