Most parents understand that it is important to give their baby plenty of tummy time, but what happens if your baby hates tummy time? Since one of my children absolutely hated it at first, I thought this would be a good topic to tackle!
So, what do you do if your baby hates tummy time? Help babies stay calm during tummy time by starting with short sessions, staying consistent, changing positions, adding music and other entertainment, choosing a time that your baby is alert and happy, getting siblings to help, picking a fun mat, and engaging with your baby throughout.
Starting tummy time early and practicing frequently are keys to helping create healthy habits and will maximize the benefits for your baby. Read on to discover the benefits of tummy time and how you can make it fun for baby (and yourself).
Table of Contents
What is tummy time?
As parents, we all understand the importance of placing babies on their backs for safe sleep, but something we should be doing with equal diligence is placing on babies on their tummies for playtime!
Tummy time is vital for physical and cognitive development in babies and should be part of a healthy routine that can start as soon as your first day home from the hospital. Unfortunately, not every baby enjoys tummy time from the start and it can feel like an uphill battle for some parents to deal with.
Let’s start at the very beginning. Where did the phrase “tummy time” come from and why is it so important?
As modern parents, we’re drilled with information on safe sleep practices and “tummy time” the minute we find out we’re expecting. For those of us born before the early 1990s, it’s unlikely our parents carved time out of their days to lay us on our tummies or even followed the same sleep guidelines we use now. This is because it wasn’t until 1994 that the National Institute of Health and the American Academy of Pediatrics launched the “Back-to-Sleep” campaign to help combat the occurrence of SIDS.
The Back-to-Sleep campaign focused heavily on placing babies on their back to sleep, which, while successful in reducing SIDS, had unintended consequences. By 2010, the number of infants placed on their backs to sleep increased from 17% to 73%, however, this also frightened parents into thinking babies shouldn’t ever be placed on their stomachs. In a later study it was discovered that the supine sleeping position (sleeping on the back) created a delay in the development of prone skills. Because of this discovery, the campaign was amended to include “Back-to-Sleep, Tummy-to-Play.”
Why is tummy time important?
Placing babies on their tummy frequently throughout the day starting as soon as their first day home from the hospital can help combat some of the physical delays they can experience from sleeping on their backs, spending time in swings, car seats and other carriers as well as promote cognitive development through sensory stimulation. Tummy time can also help prevent conditions like plagiocephaly (flat head syndrome) and positional torticollis (twisted neck). Tummy time can help meet developmental milestones like:
- Motor Skills: Tummy time can help strengthen the muscles your baby will use later to roll over, crawl, push up, and sit up.
- Sensory Development: Tummy time engages the baby’s tactile senses through the introduction of textures (like blankets or carpet), promoting body awareness by feeling their own weight and helping improve balance.
- Vision: Tummy time can help develop hand-eye coordination by drawing a baby’s attention to their hands and discovering what they are and how they move
According to the National Academy of Pediatrics, practicing tummy time for as little as 2-3 times per day for 3-5 minutes “…prepares babies for the time when they will be able to slide on their bellies and crawl. As babies grow older and stronger they will need more time on their tummies to build their own strength.”
The National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD) shares that tummy time is important because:
- Helps prevent flat spots on your baby’s head
- Allows baby to practice lifting and turning their head
- Can improve motor skills
- Strengthens muscles used in other activities like sitting up, rolling over crawling, and walking
Just as it’s important for everyone to get daily exercise, it’s especially important for babies as they work to develop and strengthen their little muscles setting the stage for a healthy life ahead!
How to do tummy time at home:
Tummy time can be an enjoyable, bonding experience for both parents and babies. Baby can enjoy a change of scenery, while parents can watch their babies experience new sensations and learn about their bodies and the world around them.
The NICHD offers the following helpful tips to create a comfortable atmosphere for tummy time at home:
- Lay out a blanket on a comfortable, uncluttered spot on the floor
- Begin introducing tummy time in short, frequent sessions throughout the day-try 2-3 times per day at 3-5 minutes each time
- Do tummy time when baby is awake, alert, and comfortable, like after a nap or diaper change
- Use a toy to interest baby and entice grabbing and encourage movement
- Designate a parent or trusted guardian to watch baby while they’re practicing tummy time
- Slowly increase the amount of time and frequency of tummy time sessions
Make this a time to engage and bond with your baby. Get creative with it! Try getting down on baby’s level and making eye contact, singing, and talking to baby while they’re practicing their tummy time. You can introduce props like mirrors, toys, and other objects to entice baby to wiggle, move and reach to help maximize movement and engage other senses.
Trying other positions during your tummy time routine can help shake things up and introduce new sensations to baby. Other recommended positions you can try during tummy time include:
- Tummy-to-Tummy: Lie down flat on the floor or a bed OR prop yourself up using pillows and place baby on your tummy or chest so that you are face-to-face.
- Football Hold: Place one hand under baby’s tummy, between the legs, and carry baby tummy down to help them get used to the position. Be sure their head and neck are supported and carry them close to your body so they feel safe.
- Eye Level: Get down on baby’s level for eye contact. This helps them feel secure as they work on their tummy time. You can even use a nursing pillow or blanket to prop them up by placing it under their arms supporting their chest.
- Lap Soothe: place baby tummy-down on your lap to burp or soothe them so they can become accustomed to the position.
As baby grows you can become more creative with tummy time by introducing other toys, changing rooms that you practice tummy time in, placing toys or objects further away from baby to encourage movement, varying tummy time routine, etc.
What happens if you don’t do tummy time?
Similar to adults that forego exercise, babies experience adverse consequences from lack of physical movement. The American Physical Therapy Association warns that infants who spend too much time lying on their backs, sitting in carriers, swings and car seats are at an increased risk of developing unfavorable physical conditions and developmental delays.
Infant Torticollis is a condition that can make it difficult or painful to turn your head. Babies, especially those younger than three months, can experience torticollis for a variety of reasons, but it has been attributed to lying in one position all the time. Tummy time helps combat the development of torticollis by promoting the strengthening of neck and shoulder muscles. Signs of torticollis include:
- Baby tilts head in one direction
- Baby prefers to look at you from a single position rather than following you with their eyes and head
- Baby may have trouble breastfeeding on one side
- Development of small knot or bump on one side of their neck
- May develop a flat head from lying in one position
Positional Plagiocephaly or “flat head syndrome” is the development of a flat spot on baby’s head. Because babies spend lots of time on their backs or propped in swings and carriers on their backs, they are at risk for developing flat spots. Usually, this condition begins with torticollis which creates a flat spot. Babies who have spent time in a NICU or are a multiple are more at risk for this condition. In some cases of plagiocephaly, a helmet may be fitted to help reshape the head. Symptoms of plagiocephaly include:
- Baby’s head is flatter on one side
- Baby may have less hair on one side of their head
- The ear on one side may appear pushed forward as you look down on the head from above
Tummy time is recommended to help prevent and treat both of these conditions. Varying baby’s position frequently throughout the day will help encourage movement, muscle strengthening and natural physical development
Why does my baby hate tummy time?
Just because a baby needs tummy time, doesn’t mean they’re going to like it! Many babies will become fussy or show frustration at being placed on their tummies. This, unfortunately, is a totally normal reaction. Some babies are very resistant to being placed on their tummies, which can lead to an avoidance of tummy time altogether by the parents and can aggravate physical conditions like flat head or torticollis or lead to developmental delays like not lifting head or rolling over.
The hard truth is, the more time baby spends on their tummy, the more they’ll learn to tolerate and, eventually, enjoy their play time. It’s recommended to begin with small increments of time and work up to spending one hour per day with baby on their tummy by three months.
Understand that this position is new to baby (much like everything else to someone so small), which can create resistance. Consistency, practice, and a little creativity can help this necessary exercise become a fun part of the day for baby and for you.
If you feel as though you’ve tried different tactics and have been consistent, but baby is still not tolerating tummy time, ask your pediatrician for other recommendations and additional help to ensure your baby continues to develop on schedule.
Should I let my baby cry when doing tummy time?
A crying baby is something all parents want to prevent, so the fact that something necessary, like tummy time, can cause fussing, tears and frustration can be difficult leading to avoidance of the activity altogether.
If tummy time makes your baby cry, remember that, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the best way to get baby to tolerate tummy time is to start early, start slow and stay consistent. Try some of the tips above to help baby tolerate this vital time spent on the floor.
The AAP cautions that if your baby was born premature or has reflux or other medical conditions, consult with your pediatrician before beginning a tummy time routine to help make it a comfortable, beneficial experience.
Baby hates tummy time at 1 month
If you find that baby hates tummy time at one month, don’t be discouraged. Remember that this is a new sensation for baby and it may take time for them to become accustomed to the new sensations being introduced during tummy time.
At one month old, babies are more alert and responsive. To keep tummy time tolerable for babies this age, try engaging their natural interests. Try eye contact with their favorite person (you), using a mirror to show them their own sweet face, and talking or singing with baby because, after all, they love your voice-even if you sing off-key!
Understanding the early stages of development can help you create a stimulating environment for baby during tummy time. Remember to aim for 3-5 minutes of tummy time 2-3 times per day for infants. Every minute counts!
Baby hates tummy time at 2 months
So, you’ve hit the two-month mark and your baby is hating those minutes spent on their tummy. Hang in there!
While this is common, it can be frustrating for you and baby because we all know how important tummy time is for baby’s development.
Did you know that at two-months-old, babies can get bored? Try changing up your tummy time routine to help prevent boredom and create a bit of excitement in baby’s day. Simple things like adding music, offering new toys, or changing where you do tummy time in your home can help bust boredom and offer a much-needed mix up in baby’s routine.
We all know what it’s like to be stuck-in-a-rut with our own routines and babies can get those same feelings. Don’t be afraid to shake things up! Even small changes can help keep baby interested in tummy time.
Baby hates tummy time at 3 months
At three months old, babies are becoming more communicative and begin babbling and mimicking, grasping toys, and using their hands for playing. However, for all the things they begin to do, there are some they may resist: like tummy time. If your three-month-old hates tummy time, there are things you can try to overcome their resistance.
By three months old your baby has transformed from a sweet little blob to a responsive and active infant! As their interests change, you can change their routine to engage them in new and more appropriate ways. During tummy time at three-months-old, try placing object further away so baby must move and reach to grasp them, which not only encourages more beneficial tummy time, it also helps develop their ability to open and close their hands-a skill baby is practicing at this age. Baby also may respond favorably to other faces as their social skills develop, so having a sibling or other trusted friend or family member play with your three-month-old can keep things interesting during tummy time.
Keeping tummy time interesting can be a challenge, but understanding your baby’s development at three-months-old can help you discover new and fun ways to keep baby interested in play to help tummy time remain a beneficial part of baby’s day.
Baby hates tummy time at 4 months
If at four-months-old tummy time is met with tears and intolerance, you may feel like throwing in the towel. Don’t! Every minute counts when it comes to practicing tummy time.
At four-months-old, tummy time can help babies develop skills they’re working to master like rolling over, pushing themselves up onto their elbows from a prone position, and working on becoming more social. Try making tummy time a bit more challenging to keep baby interested by placing toys even further away making baby think and work harder to grasp their favorite rattle or practice talking with baby and making new sounds or faces to keep their interest.
Four-month-old babies are also better able to communicate to tell you when they’re upset, hungry or tired by crying or showing distress. Be sure to practice tummy time when the time is right! Be sure baby isn’t overtired or hungry when you practice tummy time.
Keep tummy time part of your everyday routine and continue to experiment with new ways to keep baby engaged in this activity by responding to their changing needs and interests.
Baby hates tummy time at 5 months
At five-months-old your baby is learning and using all types of new skills, but there is one that should still be part of their daily routine: tummy time. Five-months is a critical time as your baby begins to become even more communicative and mobile.
If your five-month-old is no longer enjoying tummy time or spends most of it crying or frustrated, try making tummy time more challenging. Five-month-old babies are practicing their pushups and getting ready for rolling over and crawling, so help them along by incorporating some additional exercises into tummy time. Try propping baby on a boppy pillow (supporting their chest under their arms) to encourage baby pushups or place toys around their play area forcing them to move in different ways to reach their toys.
It’s recommended that regular tummy time be part of your baby’s day until 7-9 months old. Remain consistent as each session can help strengthen baby and help them reach those critical first year physical and developmental milestones.
Baby hates tummy time at 6 months
By six-months-old, your baby should be able to self-direct tummy time as they become more mobile and interested in the world around them. They may even prefer to be on their tummies. However, if your six-month-old hates tummy time, there are a few tricks you can try to inspire fun and help them enjoy tummy time.
To make tummy time fun for a six-months-old, try placing toys in a wide circle around baby’s blanket or mat to encourage their movement during tummy time. At this age, baby should be able to pivot in a circle on their tummy, so help them practice their new skill using different toys as motivation! At six-months-old your baby is highly interested in faces and may enjoy having tummy time in front of a mirror.
Remember, tummy time should be a part of your baby’s routine until the 7-9 month mark. Understanding your baby’s interests introducing new toys and positions can help keep baby interested until they’re fully ready to self-direct their own tummy time.
Tips to help your baby enjoy tummy time
If your baby doesn’t exactly love tummy time, here are a few things you can try to help make it more fun and easier on everyone. You can also use the following tips to keep it exciting and different as your baby grows:
- Start Small: Begin practicing tummy time with short, frequent sessions throughout the day. You can start with just 2-3 minutes of tummy time 3-5 times per day.
- Make it a Habit: Making tummy time a regular part of every day can help baby learn to expect being placed on their tummy. Try placing baby on their tummy following diaper changes or naps so it becomes an anticipated part of the routine.
- Switch it Up: Trying other positions can help baby feel comfortable being placed on their tummies. Positions like Tummy-to-Tummy, Football Hold, Eye Level, and Lap Soothe can offer additional support and comfort for babies who are resistant to tummy time.
- Say No to Spit Up: Try not to practice tummy time immediately after feeding to avoid an upset stomach. After all, who wants to work out right after a big meal?
- Get creative: Try using music, singing, talking, mirrors, and toys and other props to help make tummy time a more engaging experience.
- Timing is Everything: Initiate tummy time when baby is happy, awake, and alert. A baby who is overtired, hungry or otherwise unhappy won’t be a willing participant making tummy time a fussy time.
- Get Help: If baby has older siblings, recruit them to play with baby during tummy time. This can help foster bonding between siblings and offer a helpful change of scenery for baby.
- Hit the Mat: A play mat especially for babies can help make tummy time more interesting. The colors, patterns, textures, and toys included in mats can get baby’s attention and make tummy time more fun!
- Change of Scenery: Try changing up the location, the toys, and even the blankets you use for tummy time to keep it exciting.
- Get on Their Level: Baby’s love faces and yours is one of their favorites! Get down and play with baby while they’re working their muscles on the floor. Try making faces, talking, making eye contact, and changing positions to keep baby guessing and pass those precious minutes.
Much like physical movement for adults, babies need tummy time to prevent delays and physical discomfort as well as to promote cognitive development. Tummy time is recommended to be part of baby’s day until 7-9 months. While tummy time can be frustrating or uncomfortable for babies and be met with resistance at any stage or month, remaining dedicated can offer your baby opportunities to grow and develop physically and mentally.