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Why is tummy time extremely important?

baby on his tummy

Key points:

  1. Tummy time is critical not only for physical development but also for brain development.
  2. The brain stem, which is crucial for emotional regulation, body regulation, and motor planning and coordination, develops first and can be supported by adequate tummy time.
  3. Babies should have a significant amount of tummy time each day to lay the foundations for later learning, socialization, coordination, and healthy behavior.
  4. Tips for encouraging tummy time include starting early, providing a smooth surface, talking and singing to your child, adding toys, and not rushing milestones like walking.

It’s common knowledge that tummy time is key to developing the strength and motor skills needed for reaching, rolling over, sitting up, and crawling. What is not always common knowledge is that tummy time is also critical for brain development.

This has been proven by psychologists and neuroscientists over the past several decades. Tummy time exercises and movements, including lifting and rolling, push-ups, reaching, belly creeping, and crawling; all help develop the lower centers of the brain.

In recent years, however, tummy time is on the decline due to the prevalence of bouncers, swings,  and jumpers which are attractive and fun accessories that new parents are eager to buy and try with their children. For many parents, these gadgets keep the baby from being exposed to germs that they might encounter when playing outside or on the floor, and for others, they simply provide a welcome break from holding, rocking, and carrying.

For your little one, these devices might seem to be more entertaining, dynamic, and fun than playing on the floor, but they have their cons. Fortunately, it’s possible to keep your fun gadgets, as well as fostering and promoting your baby’s brain development by ensuring adequate tummy time. 

Let’s talk about the brain

The brain is the most complex organ in the human body, and one of the most crucial parts is the brain stem. 

When a baby is born, the first part of their tiny brain to develop is the brain stem. Among other functions, the brain stem is crucial for emotional regulation, body regulation, visual and verbal functions, as well as motor planning and coordination. While the brain stem is the first part of the brain to develop, brain maturation is a natural process that parents can support and optimize. Experts agree that, from a neurological perspective, the most important position for the infant is on their belly on the floor.


How do I know what to look for?

In infancy, the foundation areas are developed through movements such as head raising, reaching, rolling, belly creeping, and crawling. The great thing is that babies are wired to instinctively perform these actions that are required to develop their brains. Most of these movements can be done while playing on the floor or other flat surfaces. 

Therefore, when you see your little one exerting effort and possibly struggling to roll over from their back to their stomach and from their stomach to their back, don’t rush in to hold them or help. Your little one is not just learning a new physical skill, they are developing critical parts of their brain.

How much tummy time is right?

Babies should spend a significant amount of time on their tummies in order to go through the fundamental patterns that wire the brain and lay the foundations for later learning, socialization, coordination, and healthy behavior. 

The following is a simple guide for parents regarding the amount of tummy time required according to age. 

  • 0-3 months: 30 minutes of tummy time 
  • 3-6 months: 60 minutes of tummy time
  • 6 months or more: 90 minutes per day

At this point, they might be ready to start crawling, too!

It’s always good to keep in mind that timing does not necessarily have to be completed in one event. Small increments will tend to work best.

How to encourage tummy time with your little one

Even though tummy time boosts physical and motor development, some babies will resist it. Keep in mind that your baby will always thrive best when they are having fun, so here are some tips for making tummy time a blast:

  • The earlier you start, the better! You can start within days of birth by laying them on your chest so that they get familiarized with being on their tummy.
  • Provide a smooth surface that your baby can move across when they are ready.
  • Get down on your belly facing your baby and coo and talk to them.
  • Provide a small baby-safe mirror so that they can watch themselves move.
  • Mimic your baby’s movements: stretch your head up, crawl on your belly, creep on your hands and knees, roll-over, and sit up.
  • Ensure that your baby’s arms and legs are free to move.
  • Keep their feet and hands uncovered, so that they can use them for belly creeping -an important fundamental pattern. Socks and long sleeves are slippery and make it difficult to gain the friction necessary for belly creeping. 
  • Play lively music and sing along.
  • Invite older siblings to join in the fun.
  • Add toys, blocks, and rattles that encourage creeping and reaching.

Don’t rush!

Parents, especially high achievers, are always keen to help their children achieve milestones as early as possible. While this is fully understandable and, in many cases laudable, don’t rush walking! Your baby will walk soon enough and in the meantime, tummy time is doing wonders for their body and brain. Ensuring enough tummy time is one of the best things you can do for your child’s future physical development.

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6 Responses

  1. After reading comments here, I wanted to share my way….I use a little cusioning under my baby’s elbows and that really increased his tummy time. He loves it now. I can leave him there for longer periods of time and every now and then he starts rolling too.

  2. My daughter is almost 5 months. She has sever reflux problem as soon as I put her on her tummy she get irritated and always throw up no matter how I put her on her tummy well before feed. She eventually getting good head control but she haven’t initiated reach or elbow extension to initiate crawl. I can’t even manage to get her on her tummy for 30 minutes

    1. Hi, Kinjal! It’s also recommended, but it may make your baby a little uncomfortable. After she eats, wait a while before putting her in that position. That way she won’t be hungry, nor uncomfortable by being on her belly. You can also try putting her on your stomach or chest so that she feels safe. Besides, that’s a great way of making eye contact with her, and a good opportunity to talk to her and reinforce the bond you have. If this still happens, you can talk to your doctor about it, and do not worry, remember that development is a gradual process. Keep spending quality time with her. Soon you’ll notice how she’s able to reach those milestones.

  3. Lwandle loves tummy time he spends most of his time sleeping n his belly each time he hears my voice from the other room he creeps crying 😀he follows me around the whole day he is 7months old

  4. My 5.5 months baby doesnot like tummy time, and when i put her she rolls up to her back! 🤷🏻‍♀️

    1. Hi, Ghady! Being on their tummies make most babies uncomfortable. Try putting her in that position a while after she has eaten, so she is not hungry, but she is not uncomfortable on her tummy either. You can also place her on your own stomach, belly to belly, or on a soft surface like your bed. Maybe that way it won’t bother her that much, and she’ll still get the benefits of being in that position. If you choose to place her on the floor, lie down next to her and surround her with her favorite toys so that she can entertain himself. Try this every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

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