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Tummy time

6-minute read

Never leave a baby unsupervised on their tummy. It can be very dangerous if the baby falls asleep on their tummy or if their airways become covered.

Key facts

  • 'Tummy time' means giving your baby time on their stomach while they're awake and you're there with them.
  • Tummy time helps to build your baby’s head, neck and upper body strength.
  • Tummy time helps to prevent your baby from getting a flat spot on the back of their head from lying on their back for too long.
  • Tummy time should start soon after birth. You may begin with a minute or two of tummy time each day, and build up to around 15 minutes a few times a day.
  • Tummy time should always be supervised — never leave your baby on their stomach without supervision.

What is 'tummy time'?

'Tummy time' means giving your baby time on their stomach while they're awake and you're there with them. Tummy time is important for your baby's development. It helps them learn to lift their head, crawl and eventually walk.

Why is tummy time important for my baby?

Experts recommend that babies sleep on their back to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). This means that most babies spend a lot of time lying on their back.

Tummy time gives your baby the chance to try a new position and helps prevent them getting a flat spot on their head from lying on their back so much.

Tummy time builds your baby’s head, neck and upper body strength. It also helps to develop the skills they’ll need to crawl, roll over, sit up and stand.

When should I start tummy time?

Tummy time should start soon after birth as part of a pleasurable daily routine. You might begin with 1 to 2 minutes a few times a day.

Over time, you can gradually build up to 10 to 15 minutes, several times a day. You might start by laying your baby across your lap on their tummy. As your baby grows stronger, you can put them on a rug on the floor to play.

Tips for tummy time

It’s best to choose a time when your baby is happy, alert and interested in their surroundings. To make tummy time more fun, you can:

  • Lie alongside your baby and chat to them. You could turn the pages of a picture book and talk about what you see.
  • Let your baby know they have company by singing, or by stroking their back or hands.
  • Hold a non-breakable mirror next to your baby so they can see their reflection.
  • Place safe toys near your baby, moving them from side to side to encourage your baby to move their head, focus their eyes and stay interested.
  • Try tummy time in different locations, including outdoors in the shade on a rug in warm weather.

What if my baby hates tummy time?

If your baby becomes restless during tummy time, try changing the activity or the location. If your baby doesn’t like being on the floor, lie down and place them on your chest while you gently play with their hands and feet. Give them a gentle rock, sing songs or rub their back.

Babies with Down syndrome often have low muscle tone (hypotonia). Tummy time can help with their development, so try encouraging your baby with one of their favourite toys during tummy time. This has been shown to help encourage head lifting in infants with Down syndrome and hypotonia.

Tummy time for infants with gastro-oesophageal reflux

Some babies with reflux don’t like tummy time at first. They may be uncomfortable on their stomach or may spit up a lot. Try doing tummy time before a feed, when your baby is awake and alert. Even if your baby doesn’t enjoy time on their tummy at first, if you keep trying, you will probably find they are prepared to stay on their tummy for longer periods as they grow older and stronger.

Tummy time and SIDS prevention

Tummy time is important for SIDS prevention. Tummy time helps to strengthen your baby’s neck, shoulders, arms and back which help your baby learn to move around. Strong muscles help your baby lift their head more easily and straighten their arms giving them a better chance of rolling or moving into a safe position. This is especially important if they roll onto their stomach while they sleep, and can help reduce the risk of SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents.

Never leave a baby unsupervised on their tummy. It can be very dangerous if the baby falls asleep on their tummy or if their airways become covered.

Keep an eye on how it's going

If your baby becomes sleepy during tummy time, put them on their back to sleep in their crib. As your baby gains more control of their head and arms, give them a ball to play with, rolling it back and forth from you to them. As they start to move around more, clear away any objects that might be dangerous, and introduce new toys and games.

An adult should always be there during tummy time to make sure the baby is safe.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2022


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