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Baby development

How to Do Tummy Time with Your Baby: Fun Activities to Try

Tummy time is essential for babies—but most of them hate it (and you probably dread it, too). Try adding some variety with these fun activities and positions.

How to Do Tummy Time with Your Baby: Fun Activities to Try

Photo: iStockphoto

If your baby isn’t a fan of tummy time (meaning that there are a whole lot of tears from both of you), those few minutes that she spends belly down on the floor probably seem to last forever. And that makes many parents just want to skip the whole deal. And yes, it's totally worth investing five minutes into learning how to do tummy time.

“You have this instinct to take your baby out of tummy time if she is fussing,” says Jennifer Halfin, a physiotherapist with a focus in paediatrics who has two young kids of her own.

But tummy time is essential to your baby’s development. “Babies need it to learn, grow and develop their muscular, skeletal and nervous systems,” says Halfin. “Tummy time is that initial building block that they build other motor skills on.”

Also, physiotherapists are seeing a sharp increase in babies with plagiocephaly, or flat head syndrome, she adds, because they’re spending so much time on their backs while they sleep (because of safe sleep guidelines) and while they’re in strollers and car seats. Getting lots of tummy time is a way to prevent this.

“A good reminder is ‘back to sleep, but tummy to play,’” says Halfin.

So how much tummy time does your baby actually need? “Aim for two or three times a day, for three to five minutes at a time to start, and progress to 10 minutes extra each month,” says Halfin. In the first month, aim for 10 minutes of tummy time, 20 minutes in the second month and so on until your baby is six months old and can roll over both ways (though you should still place your baby on her stomach to play after that).

And remember, these are just guidelines: There is no such thing as too much tummy time, says Halfin. Here are some simple ways to prevent boredom and make tummy time downright fun.

Go chest to chest

Relaxing against some couch pillows with your newborn snuggled on your chest and looking at your face actually counts as tummy time in the early days, says Halfin. You can start this activity (and bonding time!) on day one. Just make sure that the upper part of your body is at a 45-degree angle. Now you can chat to your little one or study each other—you’re both getting to know each other after all.

Young mother lying in bed with her newborn baby boy tatyana_tomsickova/ Getty Images

Use props

When your baby is two or three weeks old, it’s time to move down to the floor for tummy time. “Put your baby’s chest against your nursing pillow, a rolled-up blanket or a beach towel, again at a 30- to 45-degree angle, so that she can get her arms forward to start to brace herself,” says Halfin.

As time goes on, use smaller props, such as a rolled-up kitchen towel, or muslin swaddle. Place a book, toy or even yourself in front of her as entertainment. Now is a great time to break out your favourite nursery songs with hand motions, like patty-cake.

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Have a seat

You can also sit on the floor with your legs outstretched and your baby's chest against your legs. This will give your child more support and a better view of the world around them, while also encouraging skin-to-skin contact.

Talk, sing, and rub their back—it will help soothe them and may stop the tummy time tears. As your baby gets stronger, you can lift a knee under their chest to elevate their view.

Try placing some toys or objects like blankets nearby to keep your little one engaged and enjoying tummy time.

Happy mother lifting up baby at home lying on mat Westend61/ Getty Images

Be entertaining

Once your baby is three or four months old, she can be on her tummy on the floor without any props. “Get on the floor, face to face, so your baby can see you,” advises Halfin. “You can also use a small mirror at a 45-degree angle so that your baby is motivated to see her own face.

Any sort of pattern, especially black and white, is visually stimulating and entertaining, too.” If your baby becomes tired or cranky, try adding a prop, like a blanket, to make it easier for your baby.

Mother is playing with her little baby on the bed praetorianphoto/ Getty Images

Rock and roll

Get out your exercise ball and place your baby on top, tummy down (you may want to place a blanket on the ball to make it cozy for her). While keeping a firm hand on her so that she doesn’t slip, gently roll backwards, forward and side to side and even bounce a little.

Halfin explains that this move helps baby develop proprioception, which is an awareness of where her body is in relation to her environment. Your little one can start this tummy time activity shortly after birth—just make sure to stay nice and close to your baby.

Shot of a young mother exercising with her baby girl at home PeopleImages/ Getty Images

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Take a stroll

As your baby gets better at holding their head up, you can try different holds. One of the best ways to keep tummy time interesting for both you and your child is the tummy down carry, also known as the football hold. Cradle your baby in your arms, tummy down, and go for a walk in your home or yard, describing what you see along the way.

This is also a great way for them to start learning about their environment. Not only is tummy down carrying a useful alternative to carrying the baby upright from room to room, but you can also turn it into a game since babies of all ages love "flying."

baby and dad Anchiy/ Getty Images

Make a baby airplane

Lie on your back with your knees up to your chest and hold your baby facing you, with her little body on your shins. Hold her chest to secure her against your legs and let her arms rest on your legs. This activity requires your baby to have good head control, so it’s best to wait until she is about two or three months old.

She’ll definitely laugh and giggle at this one as you make airplane sounds and pretend to fly her to infinity and beyond. Spit-up alert: This one is best when your baby hasn’t just had a feeding!

Parents Having Fun with a Little Baby Boy at Home. staticnak1983/ Getty Images

Get naked

Before you put on a clean diaper after a change, place your baby on a soft blanket or towel on the floor. Let her stare and play with a stuffed animal, or lie on the ground with her and make funny faces. The best thing about this activity? You get tummy time and bare bum time at the same time, which is a serious parenting win.

Mom and baby boy in diaper playing in bedroom Prostock-Studio/ Getty Images

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Put rattles or crinkle toys on their wrists

Putting toys in front of your little one during tummy time helps keep them entertained so they don't get bored or upset while laying there. However, babies need the toys close to them, since their eye lines—and hands—won't reach very far. As they get stronger, they may start throwing the toys they can reach, turning tummy time into a game of catch between the two of you.

Putting rattles or crinkle toys on their wrists keeps them within the baby's eye line and reach, allowing them to play without losing track of their toys.

Little baby play with toys on the floor fortise/ Getty Images

What to do if your baby hates tummy time

For many babies, tummy time is uncomfortable at first. Over time, your baby will get used to this position and tolerate it more, but those early days can be a bit rough. To make it easier for both of you, just try to keep your baby engaged. Some tried and true methods include:

  • Keep toys within reach
  • Sing songs, read, or sign
  • Mirrors at eye level to encourage visual tracking
  • Lay down so your baby can see your face
  • Try a couple of minutes of tummy time after diaper changes or baths
  • Avoid tummy time after feeding
Portrait of mother and baby boy read book in bed at home. Mom with son. Serhii Sobolevskyi/ Getty Images

Making the most of tummy time benefits

One of the main goals of tummy time is building your little one's strength, especially in their trunk and neck. But tummy time really is a full-body baby workout, and you'll soon notice that your child's arms and legs are also getting much stronger.

As your little one starts to support their body more, try placing toys a bit further away to encourage crawling and self-sufficiency. Soon, they can start self-directing tummy time, and you can move from an active participant to a supporting role.

couple snuggle with their infant daughter on the couch in their living room FatCamera/ Getty Images

Experts: 

  • Jennifer Halfin, a physiotherapist with a focus in paediatrics who has two young kids of her own.
This article was originally published on Feb 22, 2020

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Bonnie is a copywriter, editor and content consultant based in Thunder Bay, Ontario. She is also the founder and principal at North Star Writing. More of her work can be found in publications like Canadian Living, Best Health, and Chatelaine

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