My feed

Our writers test and research products independently. When you buy through a link on our site we may earn a commission but this never affects our product choices.

How to do tummy time with your baby: when to start and top tips from parents

Unsure about tummy time? Follow our guide to helping your baby embrace that all-important time spent on their tum.

By Louise Baty | Last updated Aug 2, 2023

baby doing tummy time

You may have heard the phrase ‘tummy time,’ either from a healthcare professional such as your health visitor or midwife, or from other parents in baby groups and on the Mumsnet forums.

But what exactly is tummy time and how do you do it? We’ve created this essential guide especially for you, featuring top tips from Mumsnetters, all of whom have done tummy time with their babies, and advice from a trusted expert, qualified early years and parenting specialist Kirsty Ketley.

Read next: Best tummy time toys | Best baby toys from newborn to 12 months | Best baby bouncersBest baby thermometers | Best baby playpens | Best sensory toys

What is tummy time?

Quite simply, tummy time is the time your baby spends on their tummy, rather than on their back, while they’re awake.

At first, your newborn will barely be able to lift their head during tummy time, but as their muscles strengthen and their head control increases, they will slowly master this skill. Further down the line, they will be able to lift their head and chest and straighten their arms to support their body.

Tummy time should be done for short periods of time and always under adult supervision. To be clear, tummy time should only be done when your baby is awake, never when they’re asleep. A sleeping baby should always be placed on their back to help reduce the risk of SIDs.

Why is tummy time important?

Here are some of the many benefits of tummy time:

  • It aids your baby’s physical development - tummy time helps them to strengthen the muscles they need for learning to sit up, crawl and eventually walk. "Tummy time is fab for helping to strengthen babies’ neck, shoulder, back and neck muscles,” says qualified early years and parenting specialist, Kirsty Ketley.

  • It helps to develop your baby’s motor skills (the ability to make big movements of the body) - by practising tummy time, your baby will be encouraged to learn to roll over.

  • It helps to prevent head flattening (positional plagiocephaly) - tummy time means that your baby varies the position they’re lying in, rather than staying on their back at all times.

  • If your baby has congenital muscular torticollis, which is the shortening of the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle in the neck, this will restrict neck movement and may cause them to hold their head tilted or rotated to one side from birth. Regular tummy time can help to both strengthen and relax their neck muscles, allowing for more movement.

When should I start tummy time with my baby?

The NHS advises that you can start doing tummy time with your baby from birth simply by lying them tummy down on your chest.

"Sit on the sofa and have [your baby] lying across your lap, or lean back and have her on your chest."

- Mumsnetter, SalviaOfficinalis

Make sure that you only do this when you and your baby are awake, alert and unlikely to fall asleep. Keep your baby under your close supervision throughout.

If you’re a relatively new parent but didn’t get the memo about doing tummy time with your baby from birth, don’t worry because it’s never too late to get started. The chances are that you’ve probably held your baby chest to chest since they were born, which means that you were doing tummy time without even realising!

How long should tummy time be each day?

Start small by lying your baby on your chest for just a minute or so each day. You can gradually increase the amount you lie your baby on your chest tummy-down, day by day. Mumsnetter alark says, “One tip I've seen is to try it little and often, so pop [your baby on their] tummy just for a minute or two after every nappy change.”

When your baby is ready, try doing tummy time on a play mat on the floor and, again, gradually increase the time spent doing it. By the age of six months, you should aim for your baby to do about 20 minutes of tummy time every day.

Read next: Newborn essentials: your ultimate checklist

How do I do tummy time with my baby?

Tummy time with a newborn

  • As we’ve already mentioned, you can start your baby on tummy time from birth by placing them tummy-down on your chest.

  • When they’re lying on you, they can snuggle up and listen to the familiar sound of your heartbeat. Remember that this is what they could hear all through your pregnancy and hearing it now will relax and reassure them during tummy time.

  • Don’t use blankets during tummy time as your baby might overheat.

  • Stay wide awake. When you’re cuddling your baby, it’s easy to feel relaxed and ready for a nap but falling asleep - especially if you’re sitting on a sofa or armchair while holding your baby - can be dangerous for your little one.

  • Use a baby carrier - time spent in a sling or wrap counts as tummy time and you may also find a baby carrier to be invaluable for carrying your baby around both at home and when you’re out and about.

  • Once your baby is more accustomed to tummy time on your chest, try moving them to a comfortable play mat on the floor for a few minutes a day. Lie next to them and keep them company.

  • From around three months, if your baby is having difficulty lifting their head, you can help them by rolling up a towel and placing it under their armpits to help support them.

Tummy time with a baby aged 4 months+

  • Once your baby is bigger and more robust, you can increase the time they spend on their tummy.

  • “As they get bigger, you can use toys to catch their attention or lay them on a colourful, textured play mat,” advises expert Kirsty Ketley. A baby activity mat provides a soft, safe surface for your baby to lie on as well as giving them something interesting to look at and play with.

  • Mumsnetters rate tummy time toys for keeping their little ones entertained during tummy time. A particular favourite with Mumsnet parents is the Nuby Animal Adventures Tummy Time Pillow - a portable tummy time toy, which supports your baby as they play and features a cute character and sensory details including a mirror.

“I eventually got a tummy time pillow which helped a lot"

- Mumsnetter, Rossaloony

Top tips for baby tummy time from parents

1. Start your newborn off with chest to chest tummy time

You can cuddle your baby while they listen to your heartbeat.

What Mumsnetters say:

“When very small, [my daughter] would spend a lot of time with us chest to chest either upright or slightly reclined. She also spent a lot of time in the sling.” - Mumsnet user, user14728311987

2. As your baby gets bigger, put them on an activity mat on the floor for tummy time

What Mumsnetters say:

“Have you got a baby gym? Ones with scrunchy bits of bright colours might interest [your baby]. And it’s a bit softer on [their] face than licking the carpet.” - Mumsnet user SalviaOfficinalis

3. Support them under their armpits during tummy time

What Mumsnetters say:

“I used a little rolled up blanket for [my son] in front of a mirror.” - Mumsnet user Boopboopboo

4. Use interesting tummy time toys to keep them entertained

What Mumsnetters say:

“Look at the pillows cause they just give them a bit more help and take some of the pressure off.” - Mumsnet user, lilroo87

5. Aim for a few minutes a day, increasingly gradually to around 20 minutes daily by six months

What the experts say:

“Tummy time can be done in short bursts of just a few minutes. You can lie next to your baby and sing or talk to them” - Kirsty Ketley, qualified early years and parenting specialist.

Read next: The best bath toys for babies

"My kids both loathed tummy time and had lots of time on my chest"

- Mumsnetter, OrangeGinLemonFanta

What should I do if my baby hates tummy time?

If your baby cries during tummy time, try not to worry. It’s completely normal for babies not to enjoy it - after all, the sensation of using lots of different muscles all at once can be strange and overwhelming.

So if they scrunch up their little face and let you know just how displeased they are, rest assured that they’re not the first and certainly won’t be the last to react to tummy time like this.

“It's not uncommon for babies to not like being on their tummy but it can help to do tummy time when your baby is awake and happy, in between feeds rather than straight after a feed or when your baby is tired,” says expert Kirsty Ketley. “Follow their cues and try to incorporate some tummy time into each day. If they really hate being on the floor, chest to chest with you is fine. As they get stronger and are able to lift their head more, they will likely be happy to move onto the floor.”

Here are some more tips for encouraging your little tummy time refuser to spend more time on their tum:

  • Step back - as with most things in parenting, if something isn’t going to plan, it’s best to have a little break. Try again tomorrow and the next day and the next (etc) until your baby becomes accustomed to it.

  • Persist with chest to chest tummy time -as you cuddle your little one close and reassure them that they’re safe, they’ll be doing tummy time without even realising.

  • Remember that time spent in a sling or baby carrier counts as tummy time as it’s time that your baby is not lying on their back. “My DD hates tummy time. She spent a lot of time in a sling which was really good for head control,” says Mumsnetter lilroo87.

  • Use an activity mat - when you try tummy time on the floor, pop your little one gently down on an activity mat, preferably one with lots of fascinating dangly bits to look at and different textured surfaces to scrunch.

  • Place some tantalising baby toys just out of reach - in their excitement to grab them, they’ll probably forget that they’re on their tummy at all!

  • Stay close to your baby during tummy time on the floor - chat reassuringly to them and let them know that they’re safe.

  • Try this genius tip from Mumsnetter StateOfTheUterus, who says, “My DD loathed tummy time. The only thing she would tolerate was this: sit on the floor with knees bent. Hold baby on thighs peeking over your knees to look around the room.”

About author

Louise Baty has been a journalist for 20 years and has two children, aged 11 and seven. She has written four parenting books, along with countless parenting features and advice guides for both print and online media, including Mumsnet. When writing parenting guides, she often consults and interviews parenting specialists who offer expert advice.

Having cared for two newborns in the not too distant past, she remembers all too well how perplexing and all-consuming the early days of parenting can be. She’s keen to help make life easier for new parents through accessible, easy to follow online advice.