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A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

Baby lying on tummy

Baby Exercise? Time for Tummy Time!

The American Academy of Pediatrics clearly states that babies should be on their “back to sleep and tummy to play!” You know by now that babies should sleep face up in a bare, boring crib (no blankets, bumpers, toys, or bedding) to help prevent SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

But is tummy play-time really so important? Yes!

Starting right from when they’re a newborn, place your baby on their tummy on a clean firm surface 2 to 3 times a day. The floor is best since there’s no chance of falling. You can start by doing this just for a few moments. Increase the time as they get older, stronger, and seem to enjoy this playtime.

The benefits of letting your awake baby spend time on their tummy include that it:

  • Allows them to develop the strength to lift their head up, turn it side to side, push up their shoulders and chest, and eventually roll over. Think of it as Pilates for babies!
  • Prepares them to crawl, scoot, and eventually to walk.
  • Prevents development of a flat spot on their skull from spending too much time with pressure on the back of their head.
  • Lets them explore different textures, if you vary what they lie on by using different blankets or towels.

When you first start tummy time, you may want to place the baby on your chest with their head near yours. Over time they’ll start lifting their head to see you. Have fun bonding with each other! Talk with them, tell them a story, or sing a song. Even a young baby will enjoy and respond to your animated voice and expressions.

Some babies seem to hate tummy time! But this exercise is important for them, so keep trying and slowly increase the amount of time until they get used to the routine.

Here are some ways to make tummy time fun for the reluctant baby:

  • Put different toys all around so everywhere they look there’s something fun to see or reach for.
  • Place a toy just out of reach so your baby has to reach for it – this will make them even stronger!
  • Place a mirror in front of them.
  • Prop their chest up with a rolled towel or receiving blanket.
  • Get down on the floor with them and talk, sing and play. Older siblings can join in too!

At first a newborn may just lie quietly but alert while on their tummy. Then slowly they’ll start to lift their head and chest. Gradually, you’ll watch your baby learn some new skills. By 4 months old most babies will lift up their chest and prop themselves on their elbows doing cute mini-pushups! Some will lift their arms and feet like they’re trying to fly like Superman.

Pretty soon one day you’ll see them roll over – this may be by accident at first when they’re reaching for a toy, but soon they’ll do it on purpose. Look out world – here they come.

To keep them safe, always watch your baby during tummy time, and remember to turn them over if they fall asleep face down.

Have fun!

Find more resources for parents

American Academy of Pediatrics
Back to Sleep, Tummy to Play

My Doctor Online
Why Tummy Time Is Good for Babies

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