Tummy Time

Being a new parent is intimidating. You leave the hospital feeling like someone forgot to give you the instruction manual that came with your baby. Surely they meant to tell you more than, "Never shake your baby" and "Always use a car seat," but on the drive home that's all you remember hearing.

As your internet search history rapidly fills up with things like: "how to soothe a crying baby" or "how to tell if my baby is eating enough" or "is green poop normal," survival is the only thing on your mind.

At some point during that first, sleep-deprived month, you remember that your friend or mother (or maybe it was your neighbor--who really knows at this point?) told you that your baby needs tummy time. What does that even mean? You're just supposed to put them there? What can they even do anyway? But you try it. You put your baby on his tummy... and the screams start immediately. You pick him up and start to wonder how in the world he could possibly meet those milestones in the baby book if he can't even make it one minute on his tummy.

Below is a snapshot of that progression--one child's journey on his tummy from birth to 5 months, and the major highlights along the way.

  • One week: You can safely begin supervised tummy time right away at home with your baby. Try putting him on his tummy once every time he is awake. He won't do much, but it will help him get used to being in this position.
  • One month: Your baby will start to lift and turn his head. Try using lighted or musical toys to get his attention on both sides.
  • Two months: Your baby can hold his head up for short periods, and may start to pull his elbows underneath himself. Getting down on the floor at eye level with your baby can help keep him active longer.
  • Three months: Your baby can push through his elbows to lift his chest off the floor. Soft edged mirrors and toys hung slightly off the floor will help him lift his head higher.
  • Four months: Your baby may start pushing up onto his hands, and has probably rolled off of his tummy by now. Make a game out of rolling him back to his tummy each time, and suddenly one minute of tummy time can turn into ten!
  • Five to six months: Your baby is starting to explore their mobility. He may be rolling onto his tummy, trying to turn in circles, or maybe even scooting backwards. Start placing toys just out of reach or using toys that roll away when pushed to encourage him to move around while on his tummy.

Not all babies will follow this exact progression, but if you feel like tummy time just isn't improving, ask your doctor about a referral to physical therapy. We would love to help get your child on the right track!

Call us for details: In Sioux Falls, 605-444-9700. In Sioux City, 712-226-ABLE (2253). In Rapid City, 605-791-7400.

Learn more about our therapy services here.

-Monica Christensen, PT, DPT, Physical Therapist, Lifescape