How to Start Tummy Time With Your Newborn

Advice from the experts
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Image courtesy of Irina Qiwi/

As new parents, we have hundreds of questions about how to care for our baby: What can we do to foster his or her development, and how we can give him or her the best start for a strong future? With sleep deprivation and information overload, some activities feel simply impossible, especially if your baby doesn’t seem to like them. Tummy time is one of the activities you may hear about during a doctor’s visit, but may not understand why it’s so important — or how to implement it into your already busy day.


Why is Tummy Time Important?

Tummy time refers to any time your baby spends belly down and free to move. In this position, your baby has the opportunity to strengthen her muscles on the back side of her body, including her neck, back and hip muscles. Having strong back and hip muscles is important for helping babies learn to sit and move as they grow and develop. In addition to developing muscle strength, tummy time can help decrease the risk of your baby’s head from becoming flattened from too much pressure.

Tummy time is often one of the very first experiences babies have when they are placed tummy down on their mother’s chest immediately following delivery. Newborn babies love to snuggle, chest-to-chest, with their parents. After being tucked up tightly in utero, this close contact is comforting in a world where they now have to work against gravity and deal with the uncontrolled movement of their arms, which can startle them. There are added benefits of having your baby spend skin-to-skin tummy time on you, including improved breastfeeding and bonding. Plus, what could provide more motivation for your baby to pick up his head while lying on his tummy than the reward of seeing your face?


Keeping Baby Awake for Tummy Time

It’s hard to make tummy time happen during your baby’s first month, since he may fall asleep on you or on the floor. Be sure to supervise your baby if he falls asleep during tummy time to make sure he keeps his face clear and is able to breathe easily. If you become drowsy while holding your baby chest-to-chest, put him down on his back in a safe place to sleep, such as a playpen, crib or bassinet. 

Remember, tummy time during the first few months can be accomplished during brief periods throughout the day, since your newborn may not want to spend 10 — or even five minutes — on her tummy during one session. By incorporating 30 or 60 seconds of tummy time throughout your baby’s day, you can help her become used to this position and develop a foundation to enjoy as she gets older. 


Ways to Accomplish Tummy Time

Other ways to accomplish tummy time are to hold and carry your baby tummy-down over your shoulder or across your arms in front of your body. You can also burp your baby in a tummy-down position over your shoulder or across your lap — the pressure on her tummy will help release those burps. Hold your baby tummy-down across your lap while eating, or while sitting and chatting with visitors. Remember, the tummy-down position with full contact on your chest and tummy can be very comforting for your baby. Use this position to help soothe and comfort her. Try patting or rubbing her bottom while she is tummy-down on you or on the floor. Gently rock or bounce your legs when she is tummy-down across your lap.


Rebecca Quinones and Rachel Gandy are founders of Babies On The MOVE, a Cary-based organization committed to helping children excel in motor development with in-home pediatric physical therapy and community-based infant movement classes for all abilities. Learn more about their services at


Categories: Baby, Family, Solutions