You’ve read the baby books and been to all of your pediatrician’s check-ups, so you know how important “tummy time” is for your baby.
All the experts say your newborn needs 30 minutes a day of tummy time but mere seconds after you lay her down, the screaming begins. Ear-piercing, blood-curdling shrieks.
Is this really how tummy time is supposed to be?
If we’re being honest, most babies don’t enjoy tummy time but thankfully, there are plenty of ways to make tummy time more fun, and less miserable for everyone involved.
The Importance of Tummy Time
First of all, you need to know why it’s important to persevere.
Tummy time is an important part of your baby’s physical development.
Just as adults need to exercise for good health and proper posture, so do babies.
Tummy Time Helps Babies Strengthen the Muscles in Their Necks, Shoulders, Back, Core, and Arms
It is vital to learning how to roll over, sit up, crawl, or even just hold their head up without falling over like a rag doll.
Think: “Pilates for babies.”
They’ll tone their whole body in just a few minutes a day on a simple mat on the floor.
Tummy Time Helps to Prevent the Dreaded Flat-head Syndrome
Baby’s skulls are still soft and pliable, and they grow quickly, so if they spend too much time on their back, they will develop a flat spot and require a corrective helmet, which, while cute, is also very expensive and requires plenty of extra visits to the doctor.
Previous generations of parents rarely had to worry about their babies developing a flat head because they often laid their babies on their tummy or side to sleep.
But current American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations instruct parents to lay their babies on their back to sleep in order to prevent SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
While this recommendation is saving lives, more babies are developing flat heads from the amount of time they spend in this position.
Remember, “back to sleep, tummy to play.”
Why Babies Hate Tummy Time
After spending nine months snuggled up in your womb, it’s no wonder newborns hate tummy time.
The pressure on their stomach is a new sensation, they can’t see their surroundings very well, and because their muscles are still weak, it’s just flat-out uncomfortable.
Anyone who has ever been out of shape can tell you that those first few trips to the gym are pretty brutal. So it goes with tummy time.
Thankfully, you can get creative to make it more fun and ease your baby into it.
11 Ways to Make Tummy Time Fun
1. Tummy Time is for Two!
Just because your baby is having tummy time doesn’t mean you get a break to relax and scroll Facebook. Trust me, Tricia’s filtered vacation photos can wait.
Get down on the floor with your baby and give her some encouragement!
Talk to her, wave toys in front of her and move them from side to side.
Just like I need a friend to keep me motivated at the gym, she needs your moral support.
Position yourself in front of your baby to encourage her to lift her head, and then move yourself or a toy from side to side to encourage her to turn her head.
She may not be able to do it all from day one and may tire quickly but having you by her side will keep her interested and encouraged.
If your baby shows a preference to one side, pay attention and be sure to mention it to your pediatrician.
If you have had a cesarean or have another physical impairment that makes it difficult for you to get down on the floor, you can also position baby on a sturdy table so you can get on her level without hurting yourself.
Use a padded mat to make a soft surface (like what you might use for your own home workouts) and be sure not to leave baby unattended for even a moment.
2. It’s All About the Timing
Would you want to get started on a 30-day plank challenge on an empty stomach? Neither does your baby.
Save tummy time for the moments when your baby is at her best: fed, rested, and happy.
Sure, newborns are rarely all three of those at the same time, but you get the idea.
Just before naptime or feeding is not an ideal time to work on those core muscles.
In the same strain, try to avoid tummy time immediately after feeding or you’ll end up cleaning it all off the floor. Yuck.
3. Baby Steps
Building strength and endurance takes time…lots of time.
Maybe your baby only tolerates tummy time for a few seconds before she starts screaming. That’s okay.
Just put her down for a few seconds at a time and then pick her up when it’s too much for her to take.
While you’ll read online that your newborn should spend 30 minutes a day on her tummy, that doesn’t mean it has to be 30 consecutive minutes.
If we’re being realistic, newborns are hardly awake for 30 minutes a day! Don’t worry about the clock.
Just take every opportunity, however short it is, to let your baby lay on her tummy and if she hates it, then try again later.
And again, and again, and…you get the idea. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
4. Use a Prop
It could be that your baby protests the feeling of her face smashed against a blanket on the floor. Yeah, I wouldn’t like that, either.
Try rolling up a towel to put under your baby’s chest, or use a nursing pillow like a Boppy to position baby more comfortably.
This will be more comfortable for smaller babies as well as give them a better view of their surroundings.
Leave her arms hanging in front of her face and offer toys or shake a rattle to keep her interested.
5. Baby Needs a Gym!
While you can certainly use a simple blanket on the floor for tummy time, an activity gym will make it more enjoyable and keep her attention for longer on both sides – tummy and back.
Choose one that has dangling objects to look up at and a fun pattern or design on the bottom for tummy time.
This gym by Disney Baby even comes with lights and music, along with a small positioning pillow.
Babies aren’t very picky.
They just need something clean and colorful, along with dangling objects to swat at when they’re on their back (to help their gross motor skills).
Choose a gym that you like, because during the first three to six months, you’ll be seeing a lot of it.
6. You Be the Floor
Tiny little newborns love nothing more than the warmth and smell of their mother, so use that to your advantage and let tummy time happen on your own tummy.
Lay down at an incline (on your bed, couch, floor – wherever!) and place baby tummy to tummy or chest to chest. Your comforting smell and touch will reassure even the most persnickety baby.
For my third baby, this was the only way she would do tummy time for nearly two months.
Enjoy the sweet snuggles because it won’t be long before she’s crawling and walking and too busy exploring to lay on your chest at all.
It will be here before you know it!
7. Use Plenty of Toys
Keep things interesting by mixing up the toys you place in front of her.
Choose objects with different colors and textures; pick some that make noise or have lights; and of course, a mirror so she can explore her own features.
As she becomes more mobile and starts reaching for objects, place one or two toys just barely out of her reach.
This will require her to stretch out and eventually use her arms and legs to push herself toward the toy, a crucial skill to prepare her for crawling.
You’ll soon discover which toys are her favorite and use those as motivation to stay a little longer during tummy time.
8. Use Your Limbs!
The purpose of tummy time is to give your baby an opportunity to practice lifting and turning her head.
This doesn’t necessarily have to happen laying down on a flat surface.
Just as you can use your own tummy and chest, you can also position your baby across your lap or hold her in your arms tummy-side down.
For the lap position, sit comfortably and lay baby across your lap, adjusting the height of your legs to adjust your baby’s position.
Be sure to hold on with your hands so she doesn’t roll off!
Or, lay your baby’s tummy across your forearm, using your hand to hold her diaper and positioning her head and neck near the crook of your elbow – just supported enough but also allowing her to lift and turn on her own.
Just remember that if you usually use your right arm, you’ll need to alternate arms so that her head will not always turn to the same side, plus it’s a good exercise for your non-dominant side as well!
In this position, you can even walk around the house, showing her interesting things to look at, or sway from side to side.
You may even find that she falls asleep in this position!
As she gets stronger and has more head strength, carry her the other direction, with her diaper in the crook of your elbow and your hand under her chest, allowing her to lift her head to look around.
If she gets tired and her head starts to fall, don’t force it – give her a chance to rest.
Don’t limit tummy time to the pictures you see on the internet of happy babies laying on playmats.
You can get creative – just make sure baby is safe and supported.
9. Have a Ball!
Pilate balls aren’t just for you – they’re for baby, too!
By using a large exercise ball for tummy time, you can gently roll front to back and side to side to help your baby’s proprioception – an awareness of where she is in relation to her environment.
Put a soft blanket over the ball and support your baby with your hands while gently rolling the ball a little in each direction.
When she’s ready for a nap, you can use it for your own workout!
10. Let Her Fly!
Even very young babies get a kick out of the sensation of flying.
Lay on your back and pull your knees up to your chest, then lay your baby across your legs while supporting her with your arms.
You can gently move her back and forth, side to side, and even up and down just a bit while making airplane noises.
All the while, she’ll be able to see your face – her favorite thing to look at.
Just make sure not to do this one immediately after a feeding or you’ll have a face full of spit up.
Don’t open your mouth too wide, either – trust me on this one.
11. Get Naked!
It’s hard to keep track of everything you’re supposed to do for your baby – skin on skin to promote bonding, bare bottom time to prevent diaper rash, tummy time, etc.
So why not accomplish three at once?
After bath time, get baby naked and lay her on your bare chest with a towel on top to keep her warm.
She’ll love the extra skin on skin snuggles, her bottom will have a chance to air dry, and she’s getting some much-needed core work as well! It’s a win-win-win!
Wrapping Up How to Make Tummy Time More Fun
Tummy time is necessary but it doesn’t have to be miserable.
Don’t stress about exactly how many minutes your baby is spending on her tummy – just focus on making tummy time fun and eventually, the minutes will begin adding up and your baby will learn to love it.