You Can Start Tummy Time Earlier Than You Might Think

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Tummy time — the practice of placing your infant on their stomach for a few minutes at a time — is your baby's very first exercise. While tummy time for newborns isn't always their favorite activity, it's crucial to help them build muscle strength in their neck, back, and shoulders. And don't worry: many babies grow to love it as they get stronger.

But when do you start tummy time? And how long should tummy time be? Andrew Elliston, MD, FAAP, practice owner and medical director of Elliston Pediatrics PLLC, says there's no such thing as too much tummy time as your baby gets older, especially if they enjoy the little workout. But working your way up to longer sessions can require some finesse. Keep reading to get advice on tummy time for babies, how to do tummy time, and how much tummy time your infant should have, and learn more about these baby strength-training sessions.

What Is Tummy Time?

Also known as prone position, tummy time is when you place your infant on their stomach for a few minutes at a time to help develop the muscles in their neck, back, and shoulders.

While it can be tough to watch your itty-bitty newborn try to lift their head up while stomach-down, any doctor will tell you that the practice is super important for their development. It facilitates motor, visual, and sensory development, Dr. Elliston says. It also minimizes development of plagiocephaly, which is when the newborn's soft skull becomes flattened in one area, due to repeated pressure on one part of the head, according to Johns Hopkins.

When to Start Tummy Time

Tummy time can be started when your baby is 1 day old, Dr. Elliston says. Even just letting your newborn rest on your reclined chest counts as some tummy time. But there's no harm in placing your newborn directly on the floor as long as it's clean, the baby is supervised, and their face isn't in the ground. (You can roll up a small towel to prop up their chest.)

The benefits of tummy time shift as your baby gets older. In days-old infants, "tummy time has even been shown to help with developing a baby's nursing skills," Dr. Elliston says. "It becomes increasingly relevant as a baby grows and gets stronger, mattering the most at ages 2 to 6 months, to help with motor skill development and head shape changes." He adds that after around 6 months, the baby should begin crawling and will receive the developmental benefits of tummy time while exploring.

How Long Should You Do Tummy Time in a Day?

Dr. Elliston recommends starting with two to three sessions, each one being three to five minutes long. You can increase their workout time by adding more three-to-five-minute sessions to each day, or by lengthening the amount of time they spend on their stomachs in each session as tolerated. By around 2 months, your baby should start tolerating longer stretches of tummy time, up to 20 to 30 minutes, so it doesn't need to be broken out into so many sessions. And if they like tummy time, Dr. Elliston says there's no harm in doing it for longer than 30 minutes per day.

But especially at the beginning, it's OK if your little one can only make it a couple of minutes before they start fussing. "Some babies really don't like tummy time, but it's still important to offer it a few times a day, and let their frustration be some motivation to try to do things like roll," Dr. Ellison says. "These babies may not get the full amount of tummy time we want to aim for, and that's OK." Speak with your pediatrician if you're worried about developmental delays, especially if your baby can't hold up their head by the 4-month mark.

How Long Should Tummy Time Be?

Below is a detailed breakdown of how much time babies of a certain age should spend in tummy time per day, which can be broken up into several sessions:

  • How much tummy time at 1 month? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least 15 to 30 minutes total daily by 7 weeks of age. By this point, the newborn should be able to raise their head slightly when on laying on their stomach.
  • How much tummy time at 2 months? Dr. Elliston recommends spending at least 30 minutes in tummy time position in total every day. They may be able to tilt their head to one side.
  • How much tummy time at 3 months? Dr. Elliston suggests continuing to break tummy time into two or more sessions and aim to reach 30 to 60 minutes total for the day. By 3 months, they should be gaining better control of their head and neck.
  • How much tummy time at 4 to 6 months? By now, they should have good head control and be able to push up onto their forearms and bring their chest off the floor, possibly even rolling over to the side. Once they start crawling, you can stop doing tummy time as an official exercise, but Dr. Elliston says if your infant enjoys tummy time, there's no harm in continuing.

How to Do Tummy Time

Tummy time needs to be provided in a safe environment like a clean, bare floor (carpeted or not), on a play mat, or on a thin blanket on the ground. "Tummy time should always be supervised, for safety, and not performed on a surface where a baby could scoot or roll and fall off (like a couch or bed), or fall asleep and bury their face (like a comforter)," Dr. Ellison says. "Even babies that can't roll or crawl yet can still find a way to get some traction and fall to the floor, and it happens quickly." And try not to let your baby start napping during tummy time; sleeping on their belly increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

To do tummy time, simply place your infant stomach-down on the floor or, when they're younger, on your chest. But you don't just have to let them figure it out on their own. In the first few months, babies are not very good at holding their heads up, so help them turn their face to the side or use a small towel rolled up under their chest to prop them up.

As they get older, you can also add some toys to the mix. "Generally, tummy time can be for just a few minutes at a time, so it's fun to engage with them with teething toys, rattles, and baby talk, and make it a stimulating playtime," Dr. Ellison says, adding, "Babies love to look at themselves in a mirror as they get a little older!"