Skip to main content

Tummy Time For Newborns – The Complete Guide

Tummy Time For Newborns – The Complete Guide

Tummy time is one of the most beneficial developmental activities for newborns. But what many parents don’t realise is that tummy time should start from just after birth. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting “soon after hospital discharge“.

As long as your baby was born full-term and with no medical complications you should begin tummy time from the day they’re born and continue right up until your baby starts to crawl.

Why Tummy Time Is Important For Development

Tummy time does so much more for your baby’s development than just strengthening the neck and shoulder muscles, arms, back, and legs.

Tummy time helps to:

  • Improve sensory development, particularly visual skills and depth perception
  • Open up their hands and get their thumbs out of their palm
  • Develop gross motor skills
  • Prevent positional conditions, such as positional plagiocephaly (a flat spot on the head) and positional torticollis
  • Lengthen and strengthen the muscles on the front of their body, including their core and muscles around the hips. These muscles are required for your baby to achieve important developmental milestones, such as rolling, sitting up, crawling, and walking.

Click here to download our free Developmental Milestones Checklist so you know what milestones your baby should achieve at each age and when to be concerned.

How To Do Tummy Time With a Newborn

How Long Should Tummy Time Sessions Last?

Initially, you should just aim for one to two minutes during every waking period throughout the day. Brief periods of tummy time are all you need at first.

As time goes on and your baby gets stronger and more comfortable with tummy time, you can do longer sessions.

Doing Tummy Time With The Umbilical Cord Still Attached

You can still do tummy time if your baby’s umbilical cord is still attached.

The tummy time positions we use for newborn babies don’t apply any pressure to the umbilical cord. That means you can put your baby in these positions without causing any discomfort while the umbilical cord is intact.

Tummy Time Positions For Newborns

Tummy time is essentially just positioning your baby on their tummy so that they have to work against gravity to lift their head by turning on their extensor muscles.

But that doesn’t mean they need to be lying flat on the floor face-down.

In fact, this position is often far too difficult for a newborn. This is why newborns often get upset and distressed when you first try to do tummy time with them.

You should start with something much easier and gradually work up to more difficult tummy time positions as they become stronger. Eventually, your baby will reach the point where they will be able to do tummy time lying flat on the floor.

These are my recommended Tummy Time positions for newborns:

Tummy Time Positions For The First Month:

Chest-to-chest tummy time

One of the easiest ways to start doing tummy time is by placing your baby on your chest.

You can do this by lying on your back with a pillow behind you on a couch to prop yourself up on an angle. Then simply place your baby face-down on your chest, so your baby’s chest is against yours.

This position places your baby in a more upright position, making it much easier for them to lift their head. It’s a nice, gentle way to start tummy time, and most babies enjoy it because they have physical contact with you and can look at you while they do it.

woman with baby on chest doing chest to chest tummy time

The “Football Hold” For Tummy Time

Another one of my favourite tummy time exercises to do at one month of age is often referred to as the “football hold”.

This is where you hold your baby with one arm between their legs and your hand on their tummy, and the other hand down over the top of their shoulder and hand resting on their chest.

This allows you to adjust the angle they are on to make it more or less difficult depending on what your baby is comfortable with.

Football hold for newborns

Swiss Ball Tummy Time

You can also place them on a Swiss Ball (aka. exercise ball) for an easy tummy time session at this age. Simply place your baby on their tummy on the swiss ball and hold them in position so they are safe and can’t roll off.

Then you can gradually rock the ball backwards to adjust the angle to make it easier if needed.

woman with a baby on a swiss ball doing tummy time to reduce the risk of flat spots on baby's head

Boppy Pillow

At one month of age you might also start to introduce tummy time lying on the floor, but you would do that with a boppy pillow or a rolled up towel underneath their chest to make it easier for them.

baby lies on a boppy pillow doing tummy time with woman assisting

Tummy Time With a Two Month Old Baby:

By two months of age, your baby’s head control will be improving, and they’ll be able to do most of their tummy time lying on the floor.

You should also start off with really short bursts of tummy time in these positions.

Initially you might only do a few seconds, and after a few sessions you might add on a few more seconds, continuing to do longer stretches as your baby’s upper body strength improves.

baby doing tummy time on the floor which is possible as babies grow older

Tummy Time With a 3 Month Old Baby:

By three months of age, aim for around sixty minutes of tummy time spread over the course of the day.

You don’t need to do it all in one huge session. Aim for multiple small tummy time sessions spread throughout the day instead. Try to squeeze in a few minutes at a time whenever you get a chance.

This is where you start doing tummy time to play, and can start using toys to make it more enjoyable for your baby.

And the best toy is actually going to be you.

When your baby is doing tummy time directly on the floor, keep them entertained by lying directly opposite them so you’re face to face, and either sing songs or talk to them.

face to face tummy time

Toys For Tummy Time Sessions

If you’d like to add some actual toys to the mix, a great one to start with is a non-breakable mirror.

Start by placing the mirror flat on the floor so that your baby can see their face without lifting their head much at all.

baby lying on tummy with mirror flat on floor in front of her

Then, once their neck muscles are stronger and they can lift their head well, you can start placing the mirror in front of them propped up on an angle.

baby lying on tummy to play with soft mirror

Other toys that work well for tummy time are:

Baby lying on stomach with a musical toy on the floor in front of them
  • Books. Simply propping a board book up in front of your baby so they can look at it also works well.
baby on stomach with a soft book propped up in front of them

Tummy Time And Feeding

The amount of time to wait before doing tummy time after feeding depends on your baby.

If they tend to spit up, which is very common for newborns, and they’re distressed when they do; or if you are distressed by the spitting up, then you can do one of two things:

  1. If your little one wakes and they’re not too hungry, then you can try and do tummy time before the feed.
  2. You can do a feed immediately upon waking if your little one is really hungry, then wait for twenty to thirty minutes following your feed before doing tummy time. But do be aware that your little one will likely spit up when you do this. This is because they have a really floppy sphincter that separates the oesophagus from the stomach. This causes the liquid to often come back out when pressure is applied to the tummy during tummy time.

If you use option two, try doing tummy time in an incline position, like the chest-to-chest position to keep your baby upright and reduce the likelihood of them spitting up.

What if Your Baby Hates Tummy Time?

If you have a baby who simply hates tummy time no matter what you try, read this article next to learn more about what you can do in this situation.

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.

Back to blog