Babies need play time on their bellies to help strengthen their muscles, develop body awareness, and aid their overall development. Although not all babies love tummy time at first, with your support and gentle guidance tummy time can become meaningful bonding time.
In this article:
- What is tummy time?
- When should I start tummy time?
- Why is tummy time important?
- Why does my baby hate tummy time?
- Tummy time by age: tips and activities
- When should I stop tummy time?
What is tummy time?
Tummy time is the term for the supervised time your baby spends awake playing on their belly. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends tummy time for all babies while they are awake and being watched.
Tummy time doesn’t have to be on the floor: It can happen on a parent’s body, a play gym, an exercise ball, a yoga mat, or a blanket at the park. Give your baby belly-down play time on a comfortable, firm surface, with only baby-safe materials and objects within reach. Stay close and supervise your baby during tummy time, and make sure your baby’s play surface is firm enough that their face doesn’t get buried in soft material or pillows. Incorporate tummy time into your baby’s daily schedule along with play in other positions, including on their back and lying on their side.
When should I start tummy time?
Child development experts recommend tummy time for healthy, full-term babies starting at birth. As a newborn, your baby may prefer tummy time on your chest at first, with their body at an incline. You can start tummy time on the floor once their umbilical cord stump has fallen off.
Start tummy time with your newborn by giving them just a few minutes on their belly, on your chest or on a blanket on the floor. Then slowly build up to longer periods of time on their tummy.
If you didn’t start tummy time right away when you came home from the hospital, don’t worry—your baby will still get the many important physical and cognitive benefits of tummy time. Give them a bit more practice on their tummy every day and they’ll become accustomed to it.
Why is tummy time important?
The most obvious benefits of tummy time are improved head control, upper body strength, and muscle development. But tummy time play has countless other benefits as well. From sensory skills to physical growth, tummy time benefits almost every aspect of your baby’s development.
Motor benefits of tummy time:
- Stretching the flexor muscles in the front of your baby’s body
- Strengthening your baby’s shoulder and back muscles
- Helping your baby develop head control
- Strengthening your baby’s chin, mouth, and oral muscles for rooting, sucking, and swallowing.
Sensory benefits of tummy time:
- Supporting your baby’s proprioceptive sense, or sense of their body in space
- Supporting your baby’s vestibular sense, or sense of movement and balance
Emotional benefits of tummy time:
- Encouraging your baby’s ability to regulate their emotions (with your help)
Other developmental benefits of tummy time:
- Facilitating your baby’s digestion by putting slight pressure on the stomach and intestines
- Supporting respiration by strengthening the muscles needed for breathing
- Reducing plagiocephaly, or head flattening
Large-scale studies in a variety of countries have shown numerous benefits of tummy time for motor development. In fact, babies who have routine sessions of tummy time are more likely to develop motor skills earlier, including rolling, crawling, sitting, and pulling to a standing position.
We know that it’s safest for babies to sleep on their backs, which means your baby spends up to 16 hours a day lying on their back while sleeping. This is why tummy time is so important: Babies need to play belly-down when they’re awake in order to develop their neck, back, upper body, and core muscles, all of which are key to later skills like rolling, scooting, crawling, sitting, and even eating solids.
The Tummy Time Course Pack
Gain a firm understanding of what tummy time looks like at different stages, how often to offer it and for how long, and how to make tummy time a happy, stress-free experience.Learn more
Why does my baby hate tummy time?
It’s common for babies not to find tummy time enjoyable at first. One study of parents found that over half (56%) reported that their babies cried, attempted to squirm, or seemed to feel frustrated during tummy time. So if this is your family’s experience, know you’re far from alone ❤️
As physically challenging as tummy time may be at first, it’s also a fascinating way for your baby to explore their world. Giving your baby multiple opportunities to practice tummy time throughout their day will eventually help them learn to tolerate and even enjoy it.
What to do if your baby cries during tummy time
The best thing to do if your baby cries during tummy time, according to Lovevery pediatric occupational therapist Rachel Coley, is “respond, soothe, and connect”—exactly as you would any other time your baby cries. As with many parenting situations, responsiveness is key to helping your baby during tummy time.
Offer your baby tummy time every day, but don’t feel like you need to force your baby to continue tummy time if they’re obviously uncomfortable, especially if they’re crying. By being responsive and respectful with your baby during tummy time, you can help make it a positive experience. Fuss-free tummy time means rolling your baby out of tummy time when they become agitated or tired—in other words, giving your baby a break when they need it.
When they’re crying, babies don’t benefit from tummy time anyway—their muscles are tightened in response to stress, and they’re not working on motor control patterns or exploring different movements. By responding to your baby and soothing them when they cry, you’re reinforcing your baby’s trust in you and supporting their emotional regulation.
What to try if your baby hates tummy time
If your baby continues to struggle with traditional tummy time on the floor, try some of these tummy time alternatives:
Use the “football hold.” Hold your baby belly down in your arms, with their head and belly resting on your forearm. Tuck your baby’s arms so that their elbows are underneath their shoulders—this way, your baby can use their shoulder muscles to help lift their chest and head.
Movement is helpful in this position: You might walk around or stand in front of a mirror while holding your baby in the football hold and talking or singing to them. Feel free to gently sway or bounce, too. Keep noticing your baby’s cues about whether they like this movement. If your baby gets visibly tired or frustrated, make the position easier for them by moving your arm so that their body is at an incline.
Place your baby on an incline. Raising your baby’s shoulders higher than their hips makes it easier for them to lift their head, and may feel a bit more comfortable as they’re building upper body strength for tummy time. Try positioning your baby with their upper body on a nursing pillow, a folded blanket or towel, or a firm throw pillow. Placing your baby on your chest, face-to-face with you, is another great inclined tummy time position that research associates with reduced fussing and increased head lifting for many babies. Remember never to leave your baby alone with pillows or blankets.
Think frequency, not duration. The key for babies who don’t sustain long periods on their tummy is increasing the frequency. Offer your baby lots of short rounds on their tummy whenever they’re awake and it’s practical.
Tummy time for babies with reflux
Tummy time can be tricky for babies with reflux, and comfort should be your first goal. Here are some ways to manage reflux symptoms and discomfort during tummy time:
Stay calm and present: While your baby is in tummy time, take slow, deep breaths, and speak to them in an even, gentle voice. Use plenty of eye contact and offer a soothing touch. These actions all help you and your baby co-regulate your emotions. Imagine yourself as a flight attendant exuding calm during turbulence to help passengers regulate their responses—that’s the same type of co-regulation you’re providing for your baby.
Time it right: Set your baby up for success by practicing tummy time at least 20 to 30 minutes after feeding to minimize their discomfort. Careful timing for belly-down play is especially important for babies with reflux ❤️
Lift their upper body: Try lifting their upper body slightly with your hands positioned on either side of their upper rib cage or under their armpits. You can also place your baby in tummy time over your lap, leg, or a nursing pillow, with their weight supported on their upper chest and their belly lifted.
Do tummy time at an incline: An inclined position limits the amount of pressure on their belly, which can be easier for babies with reflux. Placing your baby in tummy time on your own chest while you sit slightly reclined can be a great option—keep a burp cloth under them to catch any spit-up.
Take breaks: If your baby has reflux, it’s especially important to be responsive to your baby during tummy time. There’s no need to force tummy time while they’re crying. When your baby cries, help them gently out of the position, soothe them, and try again once they’re calm. Even if each instance results in only a few seconds on their tummy, frequent repetition can help your baby learn to self-regulate and find comfort in tummy time.
Tummy time by age: Tips and activities
Tummy time looks a little different at each age. If you practice tummy time routinely, you’ll begin to notice how your baby’s skills and abilities change from month to month—or even week to week. Here are some tips for tummy time success at every age, as well as activities and suggestions for making the most of tummy time at each stage of development.
Tummy time tips for success
Time it right: When your baby is well-rested and not hungry—like right after a nap or a diaper change—they’re likely to be comfortable and alert enough to benefit from tummy time. It’s best to wait about 20 minutes after your baby has eaten, since the pressure on their abdomen might cause them to spit up. And avoid kicking off tummy time when your baby has been awake for a while and will be ready for a nap soon. The exertion of tummy time can push an already-tired baby into fussiness.
Position your baby with support: Position your baby with their arms tucked underneath their shoulders to make it easier for them to push through their forearms to lift their head and chest. Your baby might not have the strength to hold their chest up for long, but providing some support by keeping their arms tucked can help. In addition to using their back and neck muscles to lift their head up during tummy time, your baby uses their upper body muscles to lift their chest off the floor, which in turn helps prepare them for rolling and crawling.
Make eye contact:You are your baby’s favorite toy, and this is especially true during tummy time. Getting down on your baby’s level and making eye contact can make tummy time more enjoyable for both of you. In fact, in addition to encouraging your baby to lift their head, this eye contact may even help you and your baby become more in sync and connected. Research shows that when babies and their caregivers gaze into each other’s eyes, their brain waves synchronize. By focusing on your baby’s sweet face, tummy time can become meaningful bonding time.
Introduce toys: Tummy time isn’t meant to be an activity in itself but a position for playtime. Adding toys or objects of interest to tummy time makes it more enjoyable for your child while helping to spark different aspects of their development.
For example, newborns might enjoy looking at the Simple Black & White Cards propped up in a Standing Card Holder during tummy time with their head turned to one side. Once your baby is older and can hold their head up a bit during tummy time, you can offer playthings like the Silicone Rattle, the Tummy Time Wobbler, or the Spinning Rainbow. These toys offer ways to keep your baby engaged and discovering new skills during tummy time.
How long should tummy time be?
As your baby grows, they’ll be able to tolerate longer and longer stretches of tummy time each day. At first, try doing shorter durations of tummy time throughout the day—five to seven sessions that last 1 to 5 minutes each, for example.
Tummy time recommendations by age
|Your Baby’s Age||Total Amount of Tummy Time Per Day|
|1–2 months||15–30 minutes|
|3 months||30–60 minutes|
|4 months and older||60–90 minutes|
Read on for more tummy time activities and playthings to introduce at each age, or jump to specific recommendations by age below:
- Tummy time for newborns to 2 months
- Tummy time for 3 to 5 months
- Tummy time for 5 to 7 months
- Tummy time for 6 to 10 months
Tummy time for newborns to 2 months
For newborns, tummy time is about helping your baby become comfortable on their belly. Your newborn’s body weight is heavily concentrated at their head and upper body at birth, so in tummy time, your newborn or young baby may:
- Round their back slightly
- Bend their arms and tuck them close to the body with hands near shoulders
- Bend their knees under their hips
- Mostly have their head down
- Be able to lift and turn their head briefly with great effort
- Make crawling or pushing motions with their feet
- Be comfortable with either cheek down
Tummy time activities for newborns through 2 months
With your tiny newborn, tummy time may be very short—just 1 to 2 minutes at a time—but aim to try it several times a day. At this stage, the easiest way to do tummy time may be to lay your baby on your chest while you lie on your back or sit semi-reclined. This position may be more comforting for your newborn, since they can stay in close contact with you and see you face-to-face.
You may also like to try a different version of tummy time by carrying your baby in a “football hold” across your forearm, with their head turned to one side and resting in your palm. This position also keeps your baby close but still provides the developmental benefits of tummy time.
Tummy time for 3 to 5 months
At this stage, the goal of tummy time is strengthening your baby’s head, neck, and upper body muscles. The muscles that were naturally flexed as a newborn are now lengthening, including their hip flexor muscles. This allows your baby to shift their body weight further down their body and makes it easier for them to arch their back without tipping forward. In tummy time, your baby may:
- Straighten their legs so that their lower belly touches the surface beneath them
- Use their elbows for stability, either under or in front of their shoulders, getting closer to straightening their elbows by 5 months of age
Lift their head to a 45-degree angle and hold it briefly without bobbing, getting closer to 90 degrees by 5 months of age
- Turn their lifted head to fully look left, right, and straight ahead
- Turn their head to place the opposite cheek down
Tummy time activities for 3 to 5 months
Once your baby can reach or grasp toys, anything that’s safe to mouth is perfect for tummy time. Here are a few of our favorite playthings for tummy time:
Mirror play: Prop the Framed Mirror against a chair near your baby’s tummy time spot. The mirror may motivate them to lift their head and chest to see that interesting baby in the mirror.
Where’s the sound? While your baby is in tummy time, move the Crinkle Bag or Wooden Rattle from side to side to encourage her to turn her head and hold it turned for a few seconds. Use a cushioned mat and be on the lookout for potential rolling here—where your baby’s head goes, their body just may follow 🙂
Reach for the toy: When your baby is lying on their tummy, shake the Rolling Bell just above their eye level and slowly lift it above their sightline. Looking up at the toy will help motivate your baby to push up on their hands and reach for it.
Tummy time for 5 to 7 months
For your 5- to 7-month-old baby, the goal of tummy time is to continue to strengthen their muscles and grasp nearby toys through new movements. In tummy time, your baby may:
- Press through their forearms with straight arms to lift their upper chest
- Demonstrate the “Landau Reflex,” where they lift their arms and legs off the floor and rock back and forth, or appear to be “swimming” or “flying”
- Use open hands to reach for, then eventually grab and play with enticing toys placed immediately nearby
- Bring their knees under their hips briefly or dig their feet into the floor in an alternating pattern
- Begin to rotate their body, or “pivot,” on their tummy to reach for toys to their side, closer to 7 months
Tummy time activities for 5 to 7 months
At 5 to 7 months, babies crave exposure to different sights, sounds, and textures, so try mixing up tummy time with sensory play.
If your baby is “swimming” on their tummy, place playthings underneath your baby’s hands. This may encourage them to push through their hands:
- Place the Framed Mirror under your baby’s hands and knock on the mirror to gain their attention.
- Put the Soft Book under your baby’s hands and crinkle the book to make noise.
- Use a playmat with various textures and sounds, like The Play Gym.
Use playthings that encourage reaching while they are on their tummy, which leads to weight shifting and eventual rolling or pivoting:
- Use the Spinning Rainbow to encourage reaching to spin the plaything.
- Turn the Magic Tissue Box on its side with the Magic Tissues facing your baby to encourage reaching to pull a tissue out.
Encourage pushing through straightened elbows:
- Elevate their favorite playthings to at least eye level to encourage pushing through extended elbows to get a better look.
- Roll up a small towel to pre-position your little one with extended elbows, with the Framed Mirror in front of them to encourage looking up.
- Practice prop or tripod sitting to strengthen their arms in an extended position.
Tummy time for 6 to 10 months
For your 6- to 10-month-old baby, the goal of tummy time is experimenting with different forms of movement. Your older baby may:
- Belly crawl to rotate their body, or move forward or backward
- Get up fully onto their hand and knees
- Do planks on their knees or feet, lifting their belly and hips slightly off the floor
- Transition from their belly to a sitting position, often using their hands and knees, closer to 9 months of age
Tummy time activities for 6 to 10 months
During the 6- to 10-month stage, your baby might be more active and mobile during tummy time. They may be able to reach for playthings while on their tummy, crawl, or put weight on their hands and feet. This can be a great age to introduce more playthings or props to keep tummy time interesting:
- Board books: Sturdy board books can be set on the ground at face level for tummy time. Your baby can hold or manipulate them without fear of tearing. They are also great for mouthing and for little hands that are still building motor coordination.
- Block towers: Engage your baby during tummy time with a game of knock-down blocks. Your baby will likely be fascinated by the cause-and-effect action of the blocks falling over.
- Textured cards: Encourage your baby to rotate or pivot on their belly by placing the “Things I See” Texture Cards around your baby while they are on their tummy.
If your baby is moving on their tummy, now is the appropriate time to babyproof your home if you haven’t already.
When should we stop doing tummy time?
Consider your baby’s skills, not their age
If your baby is consistently rolling out of tummy time, and you want to know whether your baby is ready to graduate from it, Lovevery pediatric occupational therapist Rachel Coley recommends assessing their skills. Check to see if your baby can:
- Push up through their hands and lift their upper chest off the floor
- Turn their head fully in both directions while pushing up in tummy time
- Press down through open palms (instead of fists), stretching and strengthening their finger muscles
If your baby doesn’t have these skills yet, they may be rolling out of tummy time because the position is hard for them. Plenty of unrestricted floor time, both on their tummy and in other positions, will help them get there.
How to encourage your baby to stay on their tummy:
- Position your baby chest down on a curved nursing pillow. This will make it harder for them to roll out and also encourages them to press up on their hands.
- If your baby has good head control, try doing tummy time on an exercise ball. Place them belly down on top of the ball, holding them securely around their torso. Keep the ball stationary or slowly roll it slightly forward and backward or from side to side. Movement can be helpful in increasing a baby’s tolerance to tummy time and initiate a head lifting response.
- Hold them. Lay your baby facing you on your belly or chest as you lie on your back or across your lap as you sit up.
- Play airplane. Lie on your back and hold your baby securely on your shins with their belly down. Slowly bend your knees toward your chest, lifting your baby as you hold them.
- Keep them engaged with all of their favorites: playthings, books, mirrors, and funny faces.
- Adjust as needed. When your baby seems tired, give them additional support by helping keep their arms tucked underneath their shoulders. Switch to shorter sessions of tummy time with increased frequency throughout the day.
Meet the Experts
Learn more about the Lovevery child development experts who created this story.
Research & Resources
Çetinçelik, M., Rowland, C. F., & Snijders, T. M. (2021). Do the eyes have it? A systematic review on the role of eye gaze in infant language development. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 589096.
Eckstein, M. K., Guerra-Carrillo, B., Singley, A. T. M., & Bunge, S. A. (2017). Beyond eye gaze: What else can eyetracking reveal about cognition and cognitive development?. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 25, 69-91.
Hewitt, L., Kerr, E., Stanley, R. M., & Okely, A. D. (2020). Tummy time and infant health outcomes: a systematic review. Pediatrics, 145(6), e20192168.
Leong, V., Byrne, E., Clackson, K., Georgieva, S., Lam, S., & Wass, S. (2017). Speaker gaze increases information coupling between infant and adult brains. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(50), 13290-13295.
Ricard, A., & Metz, A. E. (2014). Caregivers’ knowledge, attitudes, and implementation of awake infant prone positioning. Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, & Early Intervention, 7(1), 16-28.
Suarez-Rivera, C., Smith, L. B., & Yu, C. (2019). Multimodal parent behaviors within joint attention support sustained attention in infants. Developmental Psychology, 55(1), 96.
Yu, C., Suanda, S. H., & Smith, L. B. (2019). Infant sustained attention but not joint attention to objects at 9 months predicts vocabulary at 12 and 15 months. Developmental Science, 22(1), e12735.
American Academy of Pediatrics, Back to Sleep, Tummy to Play, June 2022
5 - 6 Months
“Swimming” in tummy time yet?
Your baby needs lots of tummy time to build core muscle strength for crawling. Here are the different stages of tummy time and ideas to make the most of them.
5 - 6 Months
Ready to end tummy time for good? Do this skills check first
If your baby's rolling out of tummy time, they may be ready to stop—or they might need some different strategies.
0 - 12 Weeks
3 - 4 Months
5 - 6 Months
7 - 8 Months
9 - 10 Months
0 - 12 Months
Tummy time milestones by month
For a clear idea of positions and movements your baby may try from the earliest days of tummy time to the last, check out this illustrated month-by-month tummy time guide.