To develop properly, your baby needs plenty of tummy time. What should you do if they don’t seem to enjoy it?
Many parents are afraid to place their baby on their tummy when they’re awake, especially if they aren’t yet able to hold up their head. But to develop properly, your baby needs to spend time in different positions, and especially on their tummy.
When your baby is awake and being watched by an adult, it’s recommended you give them time on their tummy. It’s possible to start with some tummy time soon after birth.
The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that babies be placed on their stomachs for 10 to 15 minutes at least three times every day. Of course, they only need to start with a few minutes a day in this position. As they grow, they’ll spend increasingly more time on their tummy.
If they start crying, place them in a different position. There is no point keeping them on their stomach if they don’t want it.
The benefits of tummy time
Contrary to some beliefs, it’s important for your baby to be on their tummy. Spending time on their stomach helps babies develop their gross motor skills.
A little tummy time each day is important for the following reasons:
- It prevents flat head. If your baby’s head is always in the same position in their crib, car seat, or baby bouncer, they may develop a flat spot on the back of their head. This is a sign that your baby is spending too much time in the same position.
- It helps them learn to control their head. Until your baby can lift their head on their own, it’s very important to change the direction you put them in to avoid developing a preference for a particular side.
- It strengthens their upper body (neck, back, shoulders, arms, and hands).
- It develops their gross motor skills as they learn to crawl, sit, and roll.
- It helps them develop their senses by changing their perspective and the way they see the world around them.
How do you get your baby used to tummy time?
Some babies don’t much like being on their stomachs. If this is the case with your child, here are some tips to get them used to this position.
Your baby may enjoy being on their stomach more if you get down on their level to interact
- Start placing your baby on their tummy as early as 2 weeks or as soon as the umbilical cord has fallen off and healed properly, so they’ll slowly get the hang of being on their tummy. Focus on frequency rather than duration.
- When your baby is on their back, gently turn them onto their stomach. They may be less surprised than if you placed them directly on their stomach.
- Take advantage of diaper changes to place your baby on their tummy if they are completely awake and ready to play.
- Place your baby on their stomach and get down in front of them. They will naturally be drawn to your face and your voice. Place mirrors and toys around your baby. Make sure to put them in their field of vision. You can roll a small blanket or towel and place it under your baby’s arms to lift them slightly.
- Walk around the house with your baby on your forearm, face down. Always keep your arm close to your body, as babies are curious and may squirm as they look around.
- Lie down on your back and have some fun “tummy-to-tummy” time with your baby. Always steady them with your hands to prevent them from falling.
Back to sleep
Your baby can lie on their stomach to play, but the safest position for sleep is on their back. Back sleeping
has reduced cases of sudden infant death syndrome
(link in French) by more than 50 percent. To vary the position of your baby’s head during sleep, the Canadian Paediatric Society recommends switching your newborn’s position in the crib every day. Place them with their head pointing toward the head of the crib one day, then toward the foot the next day. Install mobiles on the side of the bed that faces the room, not along the wall. This will encourage them to look in that direction.
Things to keep in mind
Babies can be placed on their stomachs as early as 2 weeks of age or as soon as the umbilical cord has fallen off and healed properly, as long as they are awake and being watched by an adult.
To promote healthy development and prevent flat head syndrome, babies should be placed on their stomachs when they are awake.
Babies should always be placed on their backs to sleep.
Scientific review: Dr. Anne-Claude Bernard-Bonnin, pediatrician
Research and writing: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: November 2018
Sources and references
Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information.
Public Health Agency of Canada. “Joint statement on safe sleep: Reducing sudden infant deaths in Canada.” June 6, 2018. www.canada.ca
Public Health Agency of Canada. “Safe sleep for your baby.” April 23, 2018. www.canada.ca
Doré, Nicole, and Danielle Le Hénaff. From Tiny Tot to Toddler: A practical guide for parents from pregnancy to age two. Quebec City, Institut national de santé publique du Québec. www.inspq.qc.ca
Institut national de santé publique du Québec. “Preventing a flat head.” www.inspq.qc.ca
Ministère de la Famille du Québec. “Dodo sur le dos… pour la vie.” www.mfa.gouv.qc.ca
Canadian Paediatric Society. “Positional plagiocephaly.” October 2011. www.cps.ca