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When your newborn lies on his stomach and practices lifting his head, it prepares him to explore the world on his own. “Tummy time helps your infant build strength in his back, legs, arms and neck,” says Joanne Cox, M.D., a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Boston. “This helps with further development, such as rolling over and sitting.”
Regularly spending time on his stomach also helps your baby avoid developing a flat spot on the back of his head. This is more common now because of the Back to Sleep campaign, which instructs parents to put infants to sleep on their backs to help prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), as well as the increased use of swings and bouncy seats that hold babies in a semi-reclined position. (In severe cases, head flattening, or plagiocephaly, can distort facial features.) Tummy time is especially helpful for babies with torticollis, a condition that causes the head to tilt unnaturally because the neck muscle is stiff and tight.
Don’t be surprised if your baby fusses. Many babies don’t enjoy tummy time at first, but gradually get comfortable on their stomachs as they build up strength, says pediatrician Ari Brown, M.D., author of Baby 411 (Windsor Peak Press). “It takes some work to lift that head up and it isn’t always fun,” she says. “It’s a workout.”
Start at 2 weeks old with short sessions of 30 seconds to one minute. If your baby screams or simply lays his head down, try again later. By 2 months old, aim for three five-minute sessions daily. As your baby grows, strive for a minimum of 15 minutes of tummy time per day, while encouraging him to play longer. Once your child is rolling over and independently spending time on his stomach, usually by 6 months old, you can stop dedicated tummy time.
Position yourself at eye level with your baby and talk, sing and cheer him on.
Use a toy or mirror to engage him. Debut a new toy at tummy time.
Tuck a rolled towel or nursing pillow under his armpits to give a little support and make reaching for toys easier.
Keep forgetting? Try putting you baby on his tummy for 30 seconds after each daytime diaper change.