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My Baby Hates Tummy Time!

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Cara Dumaplin

RN, BSN, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant

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Mom and Dad laying on mat with baby doing tummy time

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Does your baby hate tummy time? You’re not alone! It can be so common for babies to cry as soon as you lay them on their tummy or get tired of tummy time quickly. Let’s talk about the most frequently asked tummy time questions: what it is, why it’s necessary, how to make it successful, and more. 

What is tummy time?anchor

Tummy time is the time your baby spends on their stomach (also known as the prone position) while awake. This time may be spent on the floor, a playmat, or even laying on your chest (Yes, tummy time can happen while getting those cuddles in!). Tummy time isn’t just for newborns. Even as your baby gets older, tummy time is still an important part of supporting their development. 

Safety Tip: Understand that tummy time and tummy sleep are two different things. While tummy time is important for your baby’s physical development, tummy sleep isn’t safe until babies can roll independently.

Why do babies need tummy time? anchor

As a parent you’ve probably heard that tummy time is important, but why is it so necessary? Research(1) shows us that there are many important benefits to tummy time:

  1. Tummy time helps strengthen the neck, upper body, and core muscles.

  2. Playing on their stomach improves motor skills that will eventually lead to rolling over, sitting independently, and even crawling!

  3. Spending time in the prone position (on their stomach) helps develop your baby’s hand-eye coordination and body awareness. 

  4. By limiting the time your baby spends on their back, tummy time also helps prevent the development of flat spots on their head.

When should I start tummy time?anchor

If you can, start practicing tummy time with your newborn the day you come home from the hospital! If you haven’t started yet, don’t worry: you can start today. Go slowly. Even just 20-60 seconds is great in the beginning. You can work your way up to longer tummy time sessions as your baby is ready. 

How much tummy time should my baby do each day?anchor

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends(2) at least 15-30 minutes of tummy time per day (by 7 weeks of age). If this recommendation feels overwhelming to you, I understand. Please know that you can break this into short sessions throughout the day, so don’t worry if your baby is still working up to longer tummy time sessions. 

Think about it this way: Newborns typically have at least 5 wake windows ranging from 45-90 minutes each day. If you can get even 3 minutes of tummy time during each wake window, your baby will get 15 minutes of tummy time that day.

A 5 month old typically has 4 wake windows during the day. If each 2-3 hour wake window includes 8 minutes of tummy time, your baby will get in 32 minutes of tummy time for the day.

Is it ok to let my baby cry during tummy time? anchor

We want tummy time to be a positive experience. If your baby begins crying, try a different position or activity. Are they still crying? Let’s take a break. Know that it’s okay to transition to something different, and try again later. Check out my best tips if you want more ideas for how to make tummy time a success

How long should I wait for tummy time after feeding?anchor

Waiting 15-20 minutes after a feeding can help prevent discomfort or spit up. However, if your baby struggles with reflux or frequent spit up, you may need to wait a bit longer or attempt tummy time before a feeding instead.

Expert Tip: If your baby needs to be upright following a feeding, recline in a chair and put your little one on your chest. This allows them to be upright but is still a great position for those with reflux or who are prone to spitting up.

My baby hates tummy time! What are some alternatives to tummy time? anchor

Some babies simply don’t like being on their tummy. Tummy time is hard work for new muscles in their arms, chest, back, and neck. To encourage your baby through this, you may need to get creative. Pull out special toys, try a different room, go outside, or let your baby lay chest to chest with you to get started. I’ve got more activity ideas for you below and tips that can help make tummy time a success.

What are some tummy time activities?anchor

Want more ideas? (I have all of my favorite tummy time products linked here for you.)

  • Lay your baby down on a firm, flat surface, like a play mat or blanket on the floor. Lay next to them. Sing songs, shake a rattle, or talk to encourage them to lift and turn their head.

  • Place toys like high contrast cards or a mirror nearby for your baby to gaze at during tummy time. As your baby gets older, add more toys all around them to encourage more movement.

  • Place your baby on your chest. This time chest to chest is an easy way to get in tummy time while bonding. Encourage them to look at you by talking to them.

  • Place your baby on the couch or even on top of an exercise ball, holding them securely as you sit in front of them. This allows you to be eye to eye with your baby and can add a fun element to tummy time! 

  • While on the floor, add in a tummy time pillow or a rolled-up towel under their chest so that it's easier for your baby to lift their head and push up. This allows your baby to look around and engage more freely.

  • Lay on your back with your knees in a table top position. Lay baby on your legs and then you can move them up and down, making it a fun game!

  • Place baby on your thighs facing outward and let them look around the room. 

What are the best tummy time tips? anchor

1. Go slowly.anchor

Starting with 20-60 seconds is great in the beginning. You can work towards longer sessions by adding 1-2 minutes as your baby gets used to tummy time. If your baby gets upset or frustrated, try a new position or activity. If that doesn’t work, try again later. Adding just a bit of time each day can help your baby get more comfortable and help you find the tummy time activities they like best.

2. Practice a few times each day. anchor

You don’t have to get in all of your baby’s tummy time in one session or even in one wake window. It’s important to practice tummy time multiple times throughout the day.

3. Focus on tucking in their little arms. anchor

Keep those elbows right below the shoulders. Why? Babies’ heads are really heavy, and when the arms are sprawled out, there’s a lot of weight concentrated on those tiny neck muscles. When elbows are in, babies have the added help of their shoulder muscles too.

4. Try tummy time when your baby is already content. anchor

A content baby is much more likely to tolerate or even enjoy tummy time. For many babies that means tummy time is easier early in the wake window when they are rested. Knowing your baby is important too. For example, if you know that evenings are a hectic or fussy time, aim for tummy time earlier in the day. Finding the right time after a feeding can also be helpful to tummy time success. For those struggling with reflux or spitting up, waiting about 15-20 minutes after a feeding can make a big difference.

5. Keep things interesting. anchor

As your baby gets older, add toys around them to keep them stimulated and interested. Encourage older siblings to help by laying on the floor next to baby (or go ahead and try this for yourself!). You might even try tummy time on a blanket outside on a nice day. Keeping things interesting helps make tummy time a fun experience. 

6. Reserve tummy time for when baby is awake. anchor

Remember that tummy time and tummy sleep are two different things. While tummy time during awake time is important for your baby's physical development, tummy sleep isn't safe until babies can roll independently.

Just like with everything in these early months, be sure to offer yourself and your baby so much grace and patience during this time. Know that if you're struggling with baby sleep, my First Five Months Bundle is here to help. I'll walk you through setting your days and nights up for success as you lay a healthy sleep foundation with no crying involved. Let me show you how to meet your baby right where they are developmentally and love this stage.


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