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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. Many babies dislike tummy time at first. If your baby cries or gets upset whenever you try to do tummy time, you’re not alone.

The techniques you’ll learn in this post are tried and tested techniques that I’ve used countless times over the past 11 years practising 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 (flat head syndrome) and even prevent conditions like positional torticollis (tight neck muscles) in some cases.

Keep reading for my best tummy time tips to make it enjoyable for even the fussiest babies.

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

If your baby hates tummy time, the first thing you should know is that it’s actually quite common.

One of the most common reasons babies get stressed when you try to do tummy time with them is that you may be starting with something that’s too difficult for them.

Most babies don’t have the upper body strength to begin tummy time on a flat surface with no help. As a result, simply placing them face down on a flat surface leads to them becoming distressed very quickly.

The key is to start slowly.

Begin with very easy variations of tummy time, and only do it for short periods of time.

Then gradually build up to more difficult activities and increase the amount of time your baby spends on their tummy as they develop more strength and confidence.

Here are my favourite gentle exercises to get in some tummy time practice in a gentle, gradual way.

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

This is a great way to encourage tummy time using a modified version of the traditional technique that makes it easier for your baby.

To get them into position, I generally start by lying the baby on their back and then helping them gently roll onto their tummy by lifting one leg over their body.

Once they’re on their tummy, roll up a small towel and place it across your baby’s chest and under their arms. See the image above for an example of this.

The rolled-up towel lifts their chest off the floor and puts them on a slight incline. Doing this 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.

You can make this position even easier for your baby by placing your hand on their bottom. This will help them shift their weight from top to bottom.

And you can make it easier still by giving them support at the elbows, holding their elbows in close to their body.

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 For Tummy Time

Football hold for babies who hate tummy time

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

To do it, position your arm so it’s underneath your baby so your baby lies with their chest facing down and your baby’s head resting in your elbow crease.

Then place your other hand 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 higher your baby’s head is compared to their legs, the easier this position will be for them.

If your arms are both at the same height, they need more neck strength to lift their head against gravity. But if you raise your arm that’s under their chest so that it lifts their head up higher, it makes it easier for them to lift their head.

Over time you can gradually lower their head until they are parallel to the ground.

Once they get stronger in the football hold position, you can further increase the difficulty by modifying the hold slightly. 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

This position encourages them to practice lifting 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.

If your baby hates tummy time, spending time in the football hold position regularly as part of your daily routine is one of the best ways help them become comfortable on their tummy.

#3 – Chest-to-Chest Tummy Time 

Chest to chest for when baby screams during tummy time

My favorite form of tummy time for babies (particularly if they don’t enjoy tummy time) is the chest-to-chest position.

This is where you lay down on your back with your baby lying tummy down on your chest.

You can also 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.

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.

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 – If Your Baby Hates Tummy Time, Try Lying Them Across Your Lap

lie babies who hate tummy time across your lap

Another great tummy time position is to sit in a seat or couch and lay 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

When it comes to tummy time, try to gradually build up the time that your baby is on their tummy. Remember, seconds count.

If your baby only likes to be in tummy time for a few seconds, that’s great!

Just do a few seconds at a time, multiple times throughout the day. Aim to do at least two to three sessions (ideally more, but don’t stress if this is all your little one can manage to start) per day, when your baby is well rested. And if they don’t like one method, try a different position until you find what they will tolerate.

Even with these short bursts, you’ll be helping develop your baby’s gross motor skills and build strength through their upper body. All of this helps them reach crucial early developmental milestones.

Soon enough, they’ll start to extend to 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, for newborn babies 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, split between ten sessions per day.

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. Tummy time is often hard for babies. 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 funny faces because they really like looking at you the most.

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 your baby’s favorite toys. Or use a baby safe mirror, because babies really like looking at themselves. High-contrast toys, and toys that make noise will also motivate them to lift their head to look up while lying face down.

Click here to see the tummy time toys I highly recommend.

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.

Distraction as a tool when baby hates tummy time


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.

If you just can’t get your baby to use any of these tummy time positions, you can also try these tummy time alternatives as a way to develop head control before trying these positions again when they’re a little more ready.

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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