While it’s best for babies to sleep on their backs, they need daily time on their tummies too. Tummy time strengthens muscles in the neck, back and arms, which aid baby in reaching motor milestones like crawling. But many babies don’t love being on their bellies at first. Here’s how to make it more fun for baby (and you!).

photo: Eva Ingvarson Cerise

Start Early

Don’t wait to expose your baby to tummy time “workouts.” Even a newborn with an umbilical cord stump can be placed stomach-side down. Studies show that getting your little one used to the position early will help them get moving earlier (i.e. rolling over, crawling and even walking).

Stay on Schedule

Incorporating tummy time into your daily routine will help you remember to do it. For example, you could do some tummy time right after each nap. In the early days and weeks, one or two minutes at a time is sufficient. By three months of age, your mini-me should be racking up about an hour total in the prone position, spread throughout the course of the day.

mom baby tummy time

photo: Scott Sherrill-Mix via Flickr

Get Off the Ground

Tummy time doesn’t only have to happen on the floor. Get your newbie used to being belly down by laying her on your lap for a few minutes at a time. Or, lay down with baby resting on your own tummy or chest, and hold on securely. (Note: This position is a boon for bonding, too.)

photo: george ruiz via Flickr

Keep It Comfortable

Lay baby on a padded mat, soft blanket or even a towel rather than directly on the floor. For added comfort, especially if baby seems unhappy, roll up a thin blanket or swaddle and tuck the extra padding under their arms.

Say Ahhh

If your mini-me isn’t enjoying tummy time, get their mind off their troubles with a soothing massage. Use baby lotion to help hands glide smoothly over baby’s skin. Then, use firm, gentle strokes as you move from head to toe. Baby bonus: Infant massage may help baby sleep better and promote a healthier immune system and the learning of motor skills.

photo: John Wright via Flickr

Turn Tummy Time into Toy Time

Scatter an assortment of toys just out of baby’s reach to keep them entertained. Opt for colorful crinkly toys, teethers, textured balls, rattles or gadgets that light up or play music. If you have another child or a pet, coax them over for some playtime with baby.

Turn Off the Lights

A darkened room and light-up toys offer a new sensory experience. Make your own light-up toys by placing flameless LED tea lights into colorful, lidded containers. Let your little one shake and turn the containers, or, if your baby is too young to grasp them, place the glowing containers about 6 to 12 inches in front of their face to entice them to lift and turn their head.
skiphop-alphabet-zoo-mirror

Let Baby Reflect

Babies love seeing themselves in the mirror, so a pint-sized, shatterproof mirror (like the Skip Hop mirror shown above) placed about 12 inches in front of baby is excellent motivation for them to pick up their head.

Have a Ball

You know that old exercise ball gathering dust in the corner? Here is a chance to give it a new purpose. The trick is to place baby correctly on the ball based on their tummy-time abilities. For tummy-time newbies, place baby stomach-side down at a greater incline, holding them in place securely with one hand while slowly rolling the ball forward and backward with the other hand. Place tummy-time pros nearer the top of the ball while holding them securely and moving the ball back and forth or side to side.

Tummy time mom and baby together

photo: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr

Get Up Close and Personal

One of the best ways to help baby enjoy themselves while being stomach-side down is by getting down to their level and engaging with them. Babies love to study faces, especially those of caregivers, and will appreciate the one-on-one time with you. Talk to them, give gentle caresses, make goofy faces, and sing songs.

Just Add Water

To really up the fun factor during tummy time, place a cookie sheet with a small amount of water within baby’s reach. Let baby splash their hands around in the water, and then throw in plastic toys, measuring cups or bath toys for even more fun.

What are your best tricks for keeping baby happy during tummy time? Tell us in the comments.

— Suzanna Palmer