TUMMY TIME: Everything a new parent needs to know

Tummy time is a key activity for babies’ head, neck and shoulder development.

Tummy time exercises do wonders for building babies’ head control and strength! It also helps to prevent plagiocephaly, or flat spots on babies’ heads as well as preventing SIDS and promoting safe sleep.
While a lot of babies really enjoy being on their tummies, some babies just aren’t comfortable in that position so it’s important to know of some different variations in order to get in your daily dose of tummy time!

Firstly, you’ll need to work out the best time for tummy time for your baby, whether it be after bath time, during their nappy free time or after they’ve been fed. In general, it’s a good idea to wait at least 15 minutes after feeding. As they get older and wake windows get longer, it can be more successful to wait 30 minutes after feeding, especially for babies who suffer from reflux.

Once you know the perfect time, here are a few positions to try:  

Over a rolled up towel

Try rolling up a small towel into a cylinder shape and place it under baby’s chest. This position helps baby to place their elbows on the ground, underneath the shoulders and hold themselves up.

Baby dong tummy time on a rolled up towel

Over your lower leg or thigh
Extend your leg out and prop up bub with their chest on your leg (either your thigh or lower leg), with their arms in front. Your leg gives bub a bit of extra support which encourages confidence in lifting themselves up.

Baby doing tummy time on their parents leg / thigh

On an exercise ball
Holding the exercise ball still in front of you, place bub on top of the ball support them under the arms. They might enjoy the bouncy feeling.

Baby doing tummy time on an exercise ball

On your chest
You’re probably already doing this one without even realising! Having bub lay on your chest counts as tummy time. Lay on your back with baby placed on your chest. Who doesn’t love a good newborn snuggle anyway?
Baby doing tummy time on mother

Don't forget to use toys & visuals
In all of the above variations, you might like to try to get bub’s attention with a noisy or colourful toy or a mirror to encourage them to lift up their head by following the visual.

Some Frequently Asked Questions & Concerns

“When should we start doing tummy time?'
Tummy time is safe to start in the newborn stage! You may only want to try holding bub on your chest for the first few times and build up from there. Babies who start tummy time earlier tend to handle longer stints better and develop stronger neck and shoulder muscles while building head control.

“My baby has reflux. How can we still do tummy time?”
Timing is everything. Make sure to give bub long enough after a feed to reduce reflux symptoms during tummy time. Ideally, aim for at least 15 to 30 minutes between feeding and tummy time. Doing tummy time on a recline with baby’s head higher than their tummy using aids like the ones listed above or holding bub on your chest are also great alternatives for reflux babies.

“My little one won’t let me put them down, what can I do?”
Did you know that baby wearing can also count for tummy time? Wearing your bub chest to chest is a great alternative for bubs who need that little bit of extra attachment. Alternatively, laying baby on your chest or over your leg while maintaining physical contact are some more alternatives.

“My baby only tolerates 5 seconds of tummy time. What should I do?”
The recommended amount of tummy time is 30 minutes per day. Don’t panic, this is accumulative and does not have to be all at once. Start with 1 to 2 minutes at a time and gradually increase. There are no set rules for tummy time so follow your baby’s cues. Not every tummy time will be successful but we can do our best to make our babies as comfortable as possible, all while engaging with them in a fun and interactive way!

Tummy time can be a bit of a struggle sometimes so we hope these helpful tips have given you a few more useful alternatives that you can use at home! Remember it is never too early to start!

Which tummy time position does your baby enjoy the most?
Be sure to let us know!

Britt Brymer - Physiotherapist for Paediatrics
Upside Kids Physio

Britt from Upside Kids Physio and Health with a child on a ball

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