If you recently had a baby, you’ve probably heard your share of infant-care dos and don’ts. You know how important it is to place baby on her back for sleeping – but giving her tummy time each day is just as important for health and development. Got a squirmer or a screamer? These tips and techniques can help guide your family toward belly bliss.
Play with purpose
“Tummy time is recommended while children are awake, and on their stomach with a parent present,” says Carolynn Rowland, Ph.D., the project manager for the Detroit Healthy Start project. “It gives babies an opportunity to develop their upper chest, arms and neck.”
This muscle building teaches tykes to lift their heads and support themselves, which may help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. Spending time on their bellies during waking hours helps reduce flat spots on the head, too, and leads to important milestones, such as rolling over, sitting and crawling.
Time it right
Most babies should spend roughly three to five minutes on their bellies two to three times a day once home from the hospital, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes. If you’re still adjusting to life with baby, start when you are both ready and comfortable, preferably within four weeks of baby’s birth, says Rowland.
Gradually increase the amount of tummy time as your baby grows and shows more interest. Plan sessions after naps or diaper changes when baby is alert and happy. Avoid post-meal time though: Little ones with full bellies are likely to be uncomfortable and can get sick.
If your child becomes very upset, it’s OK to pick him up and soothe him. A little tummy time is better than none. Just make sure you try again later.
Rules of engagement
Parents should place baby on a safe, solid surface for tummy time – not the couch or an easy chair, Rowland advises. This is the best way to avoid falls and give your baby a chance to practice her pushups. Try and make it fun! If your baby is fond of a certain rattle, teething ring or lovey, place it within her reach starting out, and let her enjoy playing. Make sure the toys you use are age-appropriate, and watch for choking hazards, Rowland cautions.
It’s the perfect opportunity to play together undistracted. Try a game of patty-cake or peekaboo and see how she responds. If she’s still uneasy, turn on some soothing music to relax her. Remember to be loving and supportive, and you’ll be on your way to tummy time triumph.
This post was originally published in 2014 and has been updated for 2016.