“Back to sleep, tummy to play” is what the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages parents to practice. But any parent who has put their baby facedown (prone) for tummy time can testify to the crying that often ensues, especially in babies who haven’t mastered the skill of rolling from front-to-back. As a result, parents often pick up their babies after a short time (often within seconds) to soothe, comfort, and stop their crying. Tummy time no doubt has its benefits. But how much time does your baby need to spend on her belly to ensure normal development?
The AAP recommends playing and engaging with your baby while she is awake and on her tummy 2 to 3 times a day for short periods (3-5 minutes), gradually increasing the time as she begins to enjoy the activity and becomes more comfortable. The goal is to ensure that your baby has ample time in the prone or upright position (which can be achieved through babywearing too) where her head is not pressed against a firm surface such as a crib mattress, a swing, or a car seat.
Why tummy time is important
The “Back to Sleep” —now called “Safe to Sleep”— campaign has led to a 50 percent decrease in the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in just two decades. However, it has also led to an increase in the incidence of flat spots on infants’ heads (plagiocephaly), the result of babies spending less time on their stomachs or upright. Tummy time not only helps to reduce the incidence of flat spots, it also helps your baby strengthen the muscles in her arms, chest, and neck—muscles needed for sitting, crawling, and walking!
How to practice tummy time
The easiest way to make tummy time enjoyable for both you and your baby is to get down on your tummy with her and play. You don’t have to watch the clock and struggle through a set period of time if your baby is angry or crying, but do try to keep her engaged for as long as you can.
Here are a few tummy time tips from the AAP:
- During playtime, place yourself or a toy just out of your baby’s reach and encourage her to reach for you or the toy.
- Place toys in a circle around your baby. Reaching to different points in the circle will allow her to develop the appropriate muscles to roll over, scoot on her belly, and crawl.
- Lie on your back and place your baby on your chest. This will prompt her to lift her head and use her arms to see your face.
- Never leave a baby alone during tummy time. The risk of SIDS is greater when babies are facedown. If you need to leave your baby alone for even a few minutes to go to the bathroom or to answer the phone, turn her onto her back. You can place her on her belly for more tummy time when you return.