Tummy time is essential from day one to help your baby grow strong – even if your baby fusses and cries when you put him on his belly. Experts find that babies who don't spend time face-down often have some delays in their development of motor skills.
"The experience of being on their tummy helps babies learn to push up, roll over, sit up, crawl, and pull to a stand," explains Danette Glassy, a pediatrician in Mercer Island, Washington, and chairperson of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on early education and childcare.
Why does my baby hate tummy time?
Until 1992, when the AAP started urging parents to put babies to sleep on their back to reduce their risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), most babies slept on their tummy and were used to being in that position. Today, most babies are much more comfy on their back, where they spend their sleeping hours (not to mention time spent in car seats, swings, and bouncy seats).
So if your baby seems miserable on his belly, it's no wonder. Not only is it unfamiliar, it's physically uncomfortable. It's hard work for your baby to keep his head up when he's on his tummy, and he can't see much of anything down there. He may even feel abandoned.
When should we do tummy time?
Make sure your baby isn't hungry or tired when you set him tummy-down. On the other hand, don't place him on a full belly, which might be uncomfortable. (Wait about an hour after feeding to avoid spit-ups or infant acid reflux.)
When he starts to cry — even if it's only been a minute — try to coax him a bit longer by talking with him or playing with him. When he's had enough, pick him up and try again later.
His tolerance for tummy time is likely to increase gradually with experience and a bit of coaxing. And many babies are more content on their tummy once they can roll over and it becomes a matter of choice.
Some parents find it helpful to roll their babies over on their tummy for a little while after every diaper change. It's easy to remember to do it, and your baby may come to expect it. Your baby may also enjoy the view, if he's up on a changing table. Just be sure to hold on to him so he doesn't roll off.
How to help your baby get the most out of tummy time
Tips For Helping Baby Feel at home With His Tummy
Keep your baby company
One mom-tested strategy is to distract your baby from the unfamiliar feeling of being face-down until he gets used to it.
The best thing you can do, says Glassy, is join your baby on the floor. Encourage him, talk with him, shake his rattle, make funny faces, play peekaboo. He might even enjoy watching you do your leg lifts or crunches (he's working hard after all).
Another option is to lay your baby tummy-down on your tummy, either on the floor, in a recliner, or even in the bath.
Once your baby has sufficient head control — around age 4 months — you can play airplane: Lie on the floor and bend your legs. Put your baby's tummy against your legs, his head at your knees. Then bend your legs while holding on to him firmly. He'll probably love the new view.
You might also put him on the bed, near the edge, and sit on the floor with your face next to his. He might appreciate the softer surface, and you can easily interact with him in this position.
Tip: Make sure your child's sitter or daycare provider knows about the importance of tummy time when your baby's awake as well as the importance placing your baby on his back to sleep.
Prop a board book open in front of your baby, or place a favorite toy within reach. Invest in a tummy-time toy or gym, designed especially for babies to play with while on their belly. Some have lights, mirrors, moving pictures, music and/or squeaky toys attached.
Or place him on a colorful quilt or an activity mat designed just for babies. Some mats have prop-up toys or mirrors, and others are filled with water, for added fun. Take your baby's socks off so he can get good traction on the mat.
Tip: Have your baby's sibling(s) play nearby when he's on his tummy. (You may want to use a play yard so he won't get stepped on.) Watching a brother or sister — or even a family pet — may just keep him happily distracted for a bit.
Prop your baby up
Some parents find that giving their baby a new perspective — by propping him on a rolled towel or nursing pillow, for example — makes all the difference.
If your child has some neck strength and head control (by age 3 or 4 months) but can't get up on his forearms, simply place the towel or pillow under his chest and armpits, with his arms in front of it. (If he tends to roll forward, keep your hand on his bottom.) When he can get up on his forearms independently, remove the pillow and let him work on his motor skills without it.
Tip: Some babies enjoy rolling on a big exercise ball. Hold him on it tummy-down while you gently rock the ball back and forth.
Tune in to your baby
Try to figure out if there's anything in particular about tummy time that your baby finds distressing. Maybe his blankie gets too scrunched under him for comfort (and that shag carpet is downright scary). Maybe it's too cold on the floor, or too slippery.
One mom found that her baby liked tummy time as long as his fists were out from under him so he could suck on them. Another discovered that her baby was just fine on his tummy — as long as he was bare-butt!
Tip: See if your baby likes to be massaged while he's on his tummy. If he does, it could help him feel comfortable in that position.