It’s no secret that physical activity and good health go hand in hand – even for newborns. Tummy time is how babies learn to use and strengthen their muscles and look at the world from a different perspective.

tummy time

There are several specific benefits for your little one’s development. Tummy time in a recent review of the research found that across 16 studies, advantages included:

  • Stronger gross motor development (large muscle skills)
  • Greater overall development
  • Better ability to move while lying on their tummy or back, and while crawling and rolling
  • Prevention of flat head syndrome (brachycephaly), caused by too much time in one position.

Gradually, you will see tummy time help bring about healthy development. At about three months, babies start to put weight through their elbows and lift their head with control.  At about five months, bub will start to reach for toys, and soon after will learn to grab hold of what he or she wants. Woohoo!

Eventually, all this exercise leads to crawling and, before you know it – walking.

What is tummy time for babies?

Tummy time means babies lying and playing on their tummies while they’re awake and supervised. Usually, it happens on the floor. Alternatively, if your baby doesn’t like laying on the floor, you can hold bub on his or her belly on your chest (when you’re awake), or across your lap.

Is tummy time for newborns?

Yes, even brand-new babies can enjoy tummy time’s benefits. Please include it in your daily routine in the first days after birth.

How much is best at each age?

The World Health Organisation recommends that babies who can’t yet get around by themselves spend at least half an hour day in tummy time.

Of course, split the time up over the day, which makes it easier to fit in. Tummy time for newborns might last just a few minutes. But older babies might manage 15 minutes at a time or longer, even up to an hour. Most importantly: more is better.

Tummy time can be an excellent way to break up time spent in a pram or a carrier. Recommendations advise that restraint of babies in a baby carrier for no more than an hour at a time. Ultimately, you can do it anytime you’re somewhere safe and can supervise your little one as long as he or she isn’t hungry or tired, or too full of milk.

baby on tummy looking at toy

What equipment do you need?

You don’t need anything special – a simple bunny rug or muslin wrap (or picnic rug when you’re outside) can be helpful.

It’s also good to have a few favourite toys or objects at hand. These can be baby toys and noisemakers, or safe household items like a set of measuring spoons or a small mirror. You can place these tantalising objects just out of reach to challenge bub.

 What if my baby doesn’t like tummy time?

It’s common for tiny babies to feel uncomfortable at first – keep trying for a couple of minutes at a time, throughout each day.

Here are some things you can try to improve tummy time for newborns:

  • Do tummy time after every nappy change, so it becomes expected
  • Put a rolled towel under bub’s chest to provide some assistance against gravity
  • Lay on the floor with your faces at the same level
  • Sing songs
  • Talk to your baby and show off the toys or objects.

Finally, if you have any questions about your own baby’s development or tummy time experience, check in with your midwife, child health nurse, GP or paediatric physiotherapist.