Here’s the scene: You spread a blanket on a play mat and place your baby on it, belly-down. Immediately, they wail. You can’t bear to let your little one suffer, but you know tummy time is one of the most important things you can do for their development.
Don’t panic – it’s very common! Many babies protest tummy time, especially at the beginning.
Luckily, there are steps you can take to ease your baby into feeling comfortable playing on their belly.
- Try alternate positions.
If your baby cries every time you place them on their belly on the floor, head over to our article about 4 alternate tummy-time positions they might tolerate – and even enjoy!
- Work on building upper body strength in creative ways.
Sometimes babies hate tummy time simply because they can’t lift their head or push up with their arms to look around. Yes, tummy time itself is the best way to build the muscles that allow them to do those things, but there are other ways to do it, such as:
- Avoid always holding your baby on the same side of your body. By alternating sides, you encourage your baby to change head position, and engage different muscles.
- Carry your baby so they face away from you, remembering to support their head and neck. Again, this engages different muscles.
- Every other bath, towel dry your baby on their belly instead of their back.
- Put baby in the crib (always on their back) with their head facing the opposite direction each night. This alternately engages both sides of their body when they wake up and look out of the crib. A trick for keeping track of this is to face them towards the top of the crib on even nights, and the bottom on odd nights.
- Start slowly.
You may need to slowly convince your baby that tummy is fun. Start by putting them on their belly for a few seconds. Gradually increase just a few more seconds each time, building up to longer stretches.
If your baby still only tolerates very short bursts of tummy time, that’s okay. Simply put them on their bellies more frequently, spreading those bursts throughout the day.
- Help your baby feel comfortable and secure.
Try to make tummy time as comfy as possible. If you have a hard floor, try a play mat (you can even put a soft blanket on top). You can also put a rolled-up blanket under your baby’s chest for extra support. Also be sure they’re rested, fed, and have a fresh diaper — all prerequisites for happy play!
- Make it fun!
During tummy time with newborns, who can’t yet lift their heads, lie down next to them so you’re face to face. Talk, sing, rub their back… this can help them get comfortable with being on their belly.
When they’re ready to start lifting their heads, position yourself in front of them on the floor. Make silly sounds, shake rattles, hold up board books… anything that encourages them to lift their head and look.
Mirrors are also a great way to keep babies happy during tummy time! In fact, you can find mirrors especially made for tummy time, that you can prop on the floor in front of your baby at eye level.
The goal is work up to about an hour (or more) of tummy time each day. We know, that sounds like a lot right now. But with consistency you can get there, and the benefits for your baby will be worth it!