As a physical therapist, I often educate new moms on the importance of tummy time for their babies. It can start when baby is about two or three months old (or can lift her head). Helping baby become comfortable in the prone position has big benefits:
Reduces risks of SIDS- Placing baby on her belly helps to strengthen the necessary neck muscles that help her develop head control. Being able to lift and turn the head ultimately lowers risks of suffocation and SIDS.
Develops motor skills- Tummy time also encourages extension of the upper back, which helps to develop trunk control, which will help for sitting balance and locomotion later on. Babies who regularly spend time on their tummies tend to reach motor milestones earlier.
Reduces risk of Flat Head Syndrome- Another big benefit is that supervised tummy time helps protect baby’s soft head from becoming molded by long hours on her back, causing plagiocephaly (Flat Head Syndrome).
I generally recommend 10 minutes of supervised tummy time two or three times a day. The trouble is, some babies hate to be placed on their bellies and aren’t easily cooperative. After a few attempts that end in a wailing baby, many moms give up. So I have developed strategies to help mommies incorporate tummy time into other activities that become beneficial for both mom and for baby:
Face time - Tummy time doesn’t need to be confined to the floor. You can lie on your back and balance baby on your chest. If you prop your head on a pillow and talk to her, she will be stimulated to lift her head to look at you. You can encourage this by stroking the length of her spine to activate the extensor muscles.
Mummy Tummy time - Another activity that many babies don’t seem to mind is helping mom work out. You can place your baby on your chest or belly in the tummy time position while you do some abdominal and leg exercises. There are great videos you can follow to help you incorporate baby into your exercise routine so that you both get the benefits.
Fun and games - If you get on your tummy and prop yourself up on your elbows facing baby, you can introduce toys, games, books or other distractions. This is a good position to help alleviate strain on the lower back that new mommies tend to develop. Older babies will enjoy shifting their weight to one side in order to reach for their favorite toys, which helps prepare her for crawling.