How to do tummy time {even if your baby hates it}

Doctors and experts agree that tummy time is essential for your baby’s development. However, that doesn’t mean your baby is going to like it. It is not unusual if your infant hates tummy time.  

It’s actually really common for babies to dislike it. Luckily, there are safe alternatives to traditional tummy time that your baby may be happier to do.

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What is tummy time? 

Tummy time is when a baby lays on their tummy and learns to lift their head, control their neck, and strengthen their muscles. 

Babies are laid down usually on a receiving blanket or tummy time mat for a few minutes multiple times a day. During this time, your baby will kick their feet and push against the floor from that prone position.

They will also use their arms to attempt to push themselves up.  It may not look like they are doing much at first and they may mostly just wiggle around. That’s totally fine in the beginning, they will do more as they get stronger.

You can also help your baby out by helping to position their arms in a sort of triangle in front of them to help give them support.

baby doing tummy time

At first, most babies don’t love this activity and will only tolerate a few minutes at a time. Other babies may get upset as soon as you put them on their tummies.

However, your baby can benefit greatly from tummy time, so finding an alternative that they will tolerate is important.  

Why is tummy time important?

Tummy time helps your baby strengthen all kinds of muscles all over their body. It’s like a little baby workout.

The current recommendation saying goes “Babies should sleep on their backs, play on stomachs“.

According to the Mayo Clinic you should start with doing tummy time for 3-5 minutes two to threes times a day and work up to longer periods of time. This starts from the time you bring your baby home.

Things that tummy time helps with:

  • Head control
  • Strengthens the neck, arm, leg, and core muscles.
  • Promotes pushing up, which is the first step in motor skills like rolling, crawling, and sitting up.
  • Helps get rid of gas
  • Prevents flat head syndrome

Tummy time should always be done fully supervised by an adult as an infant could get stuck with their face in a blanket, mat, etc.

How to help babies that don’t like tummy time

Many babies don’t like tummy time. It’s completely normal for them not to enjoy it. 

There are many alternatives to tummy time that will help your baby grow stronger, learn to tolerate tummy time, and meet their milestones on time. 

Alternatives to tummy time 

If your baby is really upset about tummy time, try some of these tummy time alternatives to help them to be more comfortable.  

Many of these will also be easier for a newborn as they will not be in a fully flat, prone (laying on stomach) position so they won’t have to work quite as hard.

Tummy time skin to skin 

After nursing or bottle-feeding, skin-to-skin tummy time can be comforting for your newborn. To do this, recline back and place your baby on your chest.  You should be able to kiss your baby’s head.  

tummy time skin to skin
I had a hard time getting a good image of this but this should give you the general idea.

If your baby is too full they may spit up, so you may choose to do this after they’ve had some time to digest. Just don’t wait until they are hungry again or they’ll be cranky which will make it that much harder.

Your baby may fuss a little bit, that’s okay. Just use a gentle voice to comfort and reassure your baby.  The warmth of your body plus the sound of your heartbeat is extremely comforting to your baby. 

Remember to only spend as long as your baby tolerates it, even if it is just two or three minutes.  

Tummy time with rolled up towel or blanket

For babies who can’t raise their head yet, placing a rolled up towel or receiving blanket under their arms can help prop them up so that they can move their head more freely. 

Your baby should be a few weeks to a month old to try this, so that they have more control over their head and neck.  

tummy time with rolled up towel

To do this alternative method of tummy time you need to fold a receiving blanket or towel in half and then roll it tightly. When I make one of these, I use a few rubber bands to hold the rolled towel or blanket tight so I can use it multiple times before it needs to be washed.  

Place the baby face down on the towel with arms stretched out in front of them. The rolled towel should sit under your baby’s chest.  This looks like a miniature Superman pose to me. 

Boppy pillow for tummy time 

The Boppy Pillow tummy time method works a lot like the rolled up blanket.  It’s softer on your baby’s chest and they may tolerate it better if they are not enjoying the blanket method. 

Put your Boppy pillow on top of the blanket that your baby is going to do tummy time on. Then lay your baby down in that Superman type pose, with their feet straight out behind them and with their little hands straight in front of them.

Once you have them propped on the pillow you can place toys or sensory bags in front of them to make it more fun.

tummy time on boppy pillow

Make sure you never leave your baby alone on the Boppy pillow even for a few minutes. If you need to go in another room, take a phone call or even use the restroom, make sure to take your baby off the Boppy and lay them on their back on the receiving blanket on the floor.

I personally love the boppy method because the pillow is versatile and something you may already have if you’re a breastfeeding mom. It’s actually one of my favorite breastfeeding support pillows

Tummy time on exercise ball

Another tummy time alternative is to use an exercise ball. This is better with babies who are a little older like 2- 3 months old and can control their head better.  

Sit on the floor with your legs spread wide. 

Place the exercise ball or yoga ball, between your legs. 

Pick up your baby and place them tummy down on the exercise ball. You can either hold their hands or place your hands on their ribs and core to stabilize them on the ball. Do not let go of your baby when doing this.

tummy time on exercise ball

Baby will be eye level with you and you can use a gentle voice to encourage them and play with them.  

You can gently roll the baby backward and forward slightly on the exercise ball. Rolling the baby forward will encourage them to lift their head, while rolling them back can give them a little break.

This method can help to alleviate gas and constipation in babies. 

Tummy time mats

Tummy time mats are colorful mats that already have a little pillow for supporting your baby’s chest during tummy time. They also have toys hooked to the mat to encourage your baby to reach and interact with them while doing tummy time. 

For babies who hate tummy time, this can be a great solution. With its bright colors and toys, it really grabs the baby’s attention.

It’s also really soft, and the pillow is easily detached so that you can adjust it to your baby’s needs.  It’s perfect for taking with you to playdates, the sitter’s house, and relatives’ houses.

Tummy Time Parenting Hacks

No matter what you try some babies just really dislike tummy time at the beginning. Here are a few parenting hacks to help make it easier and/or to help you remember to do this important take to aid in your baby’s development.

Tummy time after each diaper change

If you are struggling to know when to do tummy time or how often you should be doing tummy time, doing tummy time after each diaper change can help you remember and can spread tummy time out through the day. 

After you change your little one’s diaper, you can roll them over on their belly to do a few minutes of tummy time.  Or you can use any of the tummy time alternatives at this time as well. 

This might get the baby used to when to expect tummy time and not be as upset by it. It creates a small routine that they can count on. 

Laying close by for encouragement

When your baby is doing tummy time, lay close by and place your face close to theirs. You can comfort your baby by gently encouraging them with words.

tummy time with baby

That close proximity allows your baby to see your face, which is very comforting for babies.  This can be a great activity to bond with your baby. 

You’ll also start noticing before your baby gets distressed and can make tummy time less stressful for the both of you. 

These tummy time alternatives allow you to spend some quality time with your baby while they strengthen their muscles and prepare for milestones such as rolling over, crawling, and even sitting up. 

Embrace the Cry

My personal tummy time hack was to, we’ll call it embrace the cry. My oldest daughter was a bit colicky and cried a lot as a baby.

Since she hated tummy time we’d often do it when she was already crying to avoid causing extra crying when she was happy.

We eventually moved to use the boppy pillow method often as well since she seemed to like it a bit more. We used the same pillow for breastfeeding so perhaps she had a positive relationship with it from that.

Never leave your baby doing tummy time alone, especially for newborns and very young infants. And remember the saying goes  “Babies should sleep on their backs, play on stomachs“.

Give babies plenty of playtime on both their back and their tummy so they can learn to move their muscles and gain strength. Too much time in containers aka rockers and swings can slow down their development and/or lead to flat head syndrome.

Your baby will slowly adjust to doing tummy time for longer and longer. Even if your baby only spends a few minutes doing tummy time, they will still get benefits. 

baby girl doing tummy time

What if my baby struggles during tummy time?

If your baby really seems to be not just upset, but struggling during tummy time discontinue it and talk to your doctor asap.

My youngest daughter I noticed just could not life her head up. Sometimes they just need extra help strengthening their core muscles due to low muscle tone or other issues.

Side note: babies that spend too much time in bounces chairs, swings, etc. are more likely to have low core strength so be sure your baby gets plenty of time to move around on the floor.

We ended up in physical therapy when she was just a few months old which did help. For my daughter we also found that gentle baby chiropractic care helped her immensely as well.

Be sure to discuss a proper treatment plan for your child with your doctor as every baby is different and you don’t want to miss any important issues.

I hope you and your baby find a tummy time activity you enjoy. Soon you’ll be seeing the first stages of all those exciting developmental milestones! This is just the beginning.

babies doing tummy time

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