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What To Do When Your Baby Hates Tummy Time

What To Do When Your Baby Hates Tummy Time

In this post you’re going to learn what do if your baby hates tummy time and cries whenever you try to do it. These are tried and tested techniques that I’ve used countless times over the past 10 years practicing as a Pediatric Occupational Therapist to help ease babies into tummy time gently.

With tummy time being such an important activity for your baby, it’s something you don’t want to skip. It has a huge range of developmental benefits, as well as helping to reduce the likelihood of plagiocephaly and even prevent conditions like positional torticollis in some cases.

Thankfully there are ways to do tummy time for even the fussiest babies, which is exactly what you’ll learn in this post. This will help make tummy time a lot more enjoyable for your baby, and a lot less stressful for you.

If Your Baby Hates Tummy Time, You’re Not Alone

It’s really important to know that you are not alone. The reality is, it’s quite common for babies to hate tummy time in the beginning.

One of the most common reasons babies get stressed when we try to do tummy time with them is because we’re starting with something that’s too difficult, which causes discomfort and distress. The key is to start with very easy variations of tummy time and gradually build up to more difficult activities.

Keep reading to learn 5 positions you can do to do just that.

baby unhappy on bed

5 Positions To Try When Your Baby Hates Tummy Time

These are five different tummy time positions you can try that will help to ease your baby into tummy time.

For each position, you’ll also learn how you can modify that position to make it easier for babies who struggle with it. Even if you do these for short bursts of time it’s still good progress! And as your baby gets stronger, you can start to withdraw these additional supports and extend the period of time in which you leave your baby in these positions.

#1 – Traditional Tummy Time on the Floor, But With a Towel For Support

Tummy time on the floor with a towel to make tummy time easier

In traditional tummy time, I generally get the baby onto their tummy by lying them on their back and then helping them roll onto their tummy. Once they’re on their tummy, you can place a rolled-up towel underneath their arms and across their chest. See the image above for an example of this.

The rolled-up towel lifts their chest off the floor and helps shift the weight from the front of their bodies to their bottom and hips. This makes it easier for them to lift their head. It’s particularly helpful for newborns because they’re naturally top-heavy.

Another way to help them when they’re in this position is place your hand on their bottom. This is another way to help them shift their weight from the top to their bottom.  

You can also make it easier is give them support at the elbows.

Then as your baby gets stronger you can start to remove these supports until they can do traditional tummy time all by themselves without getting upset.

#2 – The Football Hold Tummy Time

Football hold for babies who hate tummy time

The football hold or the football position for tummy time is where you hold your baby as seen in the image above.

To do it, position your arm so it’s underneath your baby and their head is resting in your elbow crease. In this position, you’re giving them a significant amount of support. Then your other hand is placed between their legs holding their upper thigh.

You can also simplify this technique if your baby still gets upset when doing it.

To make it easier, change the angle of your arms. The more vertical your baby is, the easier this position will be for them. If your arm is at 90 degrees, they need more neck strength to lift their head against gravity. But if your arm is on a slight angle so that their head is up higher and their legs are down lower it makes it easier for them to lift their head. 

Once they get stronger in the football hold position you can increase the difficulty a little with one small change. To do this, take your arm that was previously holding their leg, and place it under their body instead (see image below). Now position your baby so you’re no longer providing support for their head with your elbow crease.

Football hold for tummy time variation 2

In this position it means they’re having to lift their head to see what’s going on around them. This helps to further develop your baby’s neck muscles and head control, preparing them even more.

#3 – Chest-to-Chest Tummy Time 

Chest to chest for when baby screams during tummy time

My favorite form of tummy time for a newborn is the chest-to-chest tummy time position. This is where you’re lying down on your back with your baby on your chest. 

You can make this position significantly easier by increasing your recline before placing your baby on your chest. The more inclined you are, the easier it is for them to lift their head. It also helps shift their weight to their legs and their hips which makes it easier as well.

As you recline further it becomes a bit harder for your baby. Gradually reclining further is a good way to increase the difficulty over time. 

If your baby finds this position too difficult even on an incline, you can help them by placing your hand on their bottom to help shift their weight.

Another thing you can do to help them is to support them at the elbows as shown in the image above.

As I mentioned earlier, this is my go-to position for newborns. Particularly when babies hate tummy time because they love you as a parent, and they’re more likely to tolerate chest-to-chest tummy time because you’re interacting with them while in that position.

#4 – Lie Baby Across the Lap When Baby Hates Tummy Time

lie babies who hate tummy time across your lap

Another great tummy time position is to lie your baby across your lap. To make this nice and easy, you can increase the support for your baby by raising your leg that’s directly underneath their chest. This helps shift the body weight to their legs and hips so it’s easier for them to raise their head. 

You can also make it easier by placing your hand on their bottom to help shift their weight as well.

#5 – Exercise Ball Tummy Time

Baby tummy time on an exercise ball to make it easier

The final tummy time position that you can try is placing your baby on a massage ball or a big, blown-up ball. When doing this always make sure you’re giving your baby a lot of support so they’re not at risk of falling off and hurting themselves.

Here’s how to do it:

Place your baby on their tummy on the top of the ball with their head at the top and their legs going down the back of the ball. See the image above for an example of how to do this.

Then when they are on the ball you’ll need to support them in that position. I recommend holding them at their elbow to give them additional support. 

When you’re holding them you can rock the ball backward and forward to decrease and increase the amount of gravity they need to lift their head against. This is a great way to increase and decrease the difficulty as needed. Another great thing about this position is that you are generally kneeling in front of them and interacting with them. That close interaction with you can be extremely helpful for babies who hate tummy time because it’s comforting and provides a nice distraction for them.

Build Up Longer Tummy Time Sessions

When it comes to tummy time, try to gradually building up the time that your baby is on their tummy. Remember, seconds count. So if your baby only likes to be in tummy time for a few seconds, that’s great. Just do a few seconds multiple times throughout the day, so they get stronger. 

happy baby

Don’t beat yourself up. If they’re doing seconds, that’s amazing. Soon enough, they’ll start to extend those seconds into 10 seconds, and then into a minute, and before you know it they’re spending long periods of time on their tummy and loving it. 

Remember, if they’re a newborn we’re only aiming for one to two minutes of tummy time in total throughout the day. By three months of age, you’re aiming for an hour total of tummy time, but not all at once. It would be in chunks. 

The ultimate goal in the end is six minutes of tummy time, ten times per day. But the main this is if they’re not at that point yet, you’re helping them work on it and gradually improving. Seconds are better than nothing, so just get those seconds in, and they will increase. 

Distraction is Key When Your Baby Hates Tummy Time

One last thing to mention here is that tummy time can be made much easier by using distractions. As we discussed, tummy time hard for your baby. But if you can distract them while they’re in these positions it’s a great way to extend the time they spend in them.

The best way to distract your baby is to get directly in front of them when they’re on the ground so you’re lying directly opposite them. I’d recommend singing songs or making faces because they really like looking at you the most. You’re more entertaining than any toy! If you can get involved somehow in their tummy time, I would definitely recommend it. 

If it’s not possible to get involved, you can also use toys or mirrors because babies really like looking at themselves. High-contrast toys when they’re in tummy time will also motivate them to look up initially. 

Distraction as a tool when baby hates tummy time

One more thing you can do is change the scenery. If you do tummy time in the same room all the time, maybe try doing it outside so they can look at the grass or find other locations around the house.

Conclusion

If you’re struggling to do tummy time with your baby, try these 5 positions to see if one or more work for your little one.

Start with the easiest options, and modify them to make them even easier if your baby still hates it.

Once you find something that works (even for a few seconds), that’s great! Keep working at it in short bursts and try to gradually increase the length of time they’re in that position for.

Then gradually move to more difficult tummy time positions as your baby becomes stronger and more comfortable on their tummy.

And don’t forget to use distractions wherever you can to help them tolerate it a little more.  

Finally, make sure to download your free 0-12 months developmental milestone chart, so you know the key milestones your baby should hit and when to expect them to hit them!

Emma Hubbard

Emma Hubbard

Emma Hubbard is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist with over 12 years of clinical experience. She received her Bachelor's Degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of Newcastle. Emma is the founder of Brightest Beginning & writes about all things child development, sleep, feeding, toilet training and more.

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