Tummy Time Basics

Vanessa Recinto MOT, OTR/L
Vanessa Recinto MOT, OTR/L

LKS & Associates
Occupational Therapist

I’ve been in the field for ten years, and every treatment session, I work on tummy time, whether my client is a newborn or five years old. Tummy time is essential because it is the foundation of gross motor development and plays a huge role in fine motor, oral motor, and visual-motor skills. Additionally, it provides excellent sensory information. With older children, maintaining a prone position (tummy time) over a static or dynamic surface improves postural stability for gross and fine motor skills such as sitting in a chair, handwriting, copying from a board and more. 

When you are taking care of your first, second or third, there is always so much to do, between postpartum care, feedings, diaper changes, and lack of sleep… adding in tummy time? Jeez. I will provide a short and straightforward route for tummy time to try to make it easier. 

Back-to-Sleep

SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) was high in the 90s resulting in the Back-to-Sleep campaign. Many parents feared placing babies on their belly even during awake time. Cue baby containers (e.g., swings, bouncer, car seat, baby carrier, etc.), which led to delayed motor milestones, decreased strength, and plagiocephaly, otherwise known as flat head.

What are the benefits of tummy time?

  1. It strengthens the neck and back muscles necessary for rolling, crawling, and walking.
  2. It lays a foundation for fine motor skills because your baby bears weight through their arms to help strengthen for reaching and grasping.
  3. It provides opportunities for eye muscles to develop because your baby has to shift from looking down at what’s in immediately in front to something across the room. This helps with scanning, focusing, and using eyes together for visual skills such as copying from the board, playing catch, and more. 
  4. It helps to maximize oral function for optimal latch and feeding skills. 

When do I start tummy time? 

Day one! An early start with tummy time helps increase tolerance and leads to your baby getting stronger every day. 

How often and for how long is tummy time recommended? 

The World Health Organization (2019) recommends at least 30 minutes in tummy time spread throughout the day for infants. Ideally, we want to work up to at least one full hour by three months of age.

  • 0-2 months: at least 30 minutes total during awake time
  • 3-6 months: at least 1 hour total during awake time
  • 6 months and older: most playtime on tummy

Remember:

  • Quality > Quantity. Don’t worry if you can’t find the time. It’s better to focus on the quality of tummy time vs. quantity. 
  • Your baby should be awake and supervised. 
  • Do tummy time over a firm surface. 

Five ways to incorporate tummy time during your busy day for your 0-6 months old: 

  1. Newborn: Newborns still have physiological flexion (legs flexed from utero); laying flat on a firm surface puts too much weight on their shoulders/face side. Start reclined over your chest for those sweet cuddles. Skin to skin is even better. Lay on your back and cuddle your lovely babe chest to chest while singing and talking to them. You can also try over your nursing pillow, boppy, or a rolled blanket under their chest. Once your baby tolerates laying flat on your chest, you can try a firm surface on the floor, around 1-1.5 months old.
  1. Carry your baby like a football while you are moving from room to room.
  1. Sit in a comfortable position, resting your baby on their tummy over your legs. Ensure their arms are free so they can support themselves. Place a fun toy in front of your baby to encourage them to reach for the toy or place their hands on the surface in front of them. 
  1. If you have a yoga ball, you can place your baby on tummy time and rock them back and forth. 
  1. While playing with your babe on the floor, incorporate mirrors, visual and tactile stimulation toys, water mat, or contrast books.

Baby Joshua, Vanessa’s little one, at 1.5 months old with the black and white contrast book (doing tummy time with his dog).

Besides your arms and body, here are our favorite tummy time must-haves:

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