Why Is Tummy Time Important for Your Baby?

Infant enjoying tummy time

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As much as experts have been stressing that you put your baby to sleep on her back, it is likely a bit surprising that you sometimes hear about the importance that your baby also spends some time on their stomach, which is called tummy time.

Although it would seem like these recommendations contradict each other, there is an important difference: Tummy time is just for when your baby is awake.

You should continue to put your baby to sleep on their back to reduce the risk of SIDS.

Importance of Tummy Time

One reason that tummy time is important is usually obvious to parents, and that is because many babies develop a flat head from sleeping on their backs. Although often temporary, this condition, called positional plagiocephaly, can often be prevented and treated by helping your child spend less time in the same position on their back and more time on their tummy when they are awake. And unfortunately, some children do need medical treatment, like with a DOC band or helmet, for their positional plagiocephaly when more conservative methods don't work.

When babies spend less time on their stomachs, it can cause some delays in picking up milestones including rolling over, sitting up, and crawling.

Fortunately, by the time they're toddlers, these delays all seem to disappear no matter how your baby sleeps, so it is likely more appropriate to describe these kids as having a "lag" in their development and not a true delay. Still, if you want to avoid this lag, you might try some tummy time during the day.

Lastly, tummy time can be a fun way to spend time with your baby!

Tummy Time Duration

Babies can start tummy time as soon as they come home. Start with two or three sessions per day for 3 to 5 minutes. As baby gets older, they can spend more time on their tummy.

Tummy Time Tips

Some tips to help your baby enjoy tummy time include:

  • Starting with shorter periods of tummy time, maybe even three minutes a day.
  • Laying on your back and lay your baby down on their tummy on your chest.
  • Laying your baby on a tummy time play mat with some age-appropriate tummy time toys, especially once they have some upper body strength to actually reach for and play with them.
  • Prop their chest up with a pillow or a carefully rolled towel or blanket. Be careful to make sure that whatever you place beneath your baby doesn't obstruct their ability to breathe.
  • Try doing a little infant massage with your baby on their back using high-grade coconut oil or safflower oil that has been approved even for premature babies. This might help those who really don't like to be on their tummies.
  • Get down on the floor with your baby and talk or sing to them. If your baby has siblings, sometimes they will respond to having a sibling lie down on the floor as "entertainment," even more than having an adult to play and interact with. Be careful to watch over children, especially young children.
  • Practice extra caution so that fun-loving children and pets don't get too excited and step on your baby in their excitement.

What You Need to Know

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that daily tummy time can help avoid the development of positional plagiocephaly or a flat head and also enhance motor development.
  • You can usually start formal tummy time when your baby is about two months old and your baby is able to lift their head. Before that, although it is OK to put your baby down on their tummy while they are awake and being supervised, if they aren't lifting and moving their head much, then it really isn't tummy time.
  • If your baby continues to hate tummy time, you can often just wait a few weeks and try again. You can also take other steps to keep your baby's head from lying in the same position, such as using an infant carrier during the day, alternating sleep positions (while continuing to sleep on their back), and avoiding leaving your infant in car seats (when not in the car) and bouncy type seats for long periods of time.
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4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Reduce the Risk of SIDS & Suffocation. Updated January 12, 2017.

  2. Cummings C. Positional plagiocephalyPaediatr Child Health. 2011;16(8):493-496. doi:10.1093/pch/16.8.493

  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Babies Need Tummy Time.

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Babies should sleep on their backs, play on stomachs. Published August 24, 2009.