Do newborns need to do tummy time? Yes, even newborn babies need tummy time! But tummy time looks very different at 4 weeks compared to 4 months.
If both mom and baby are stable and physically able to, baby should be placed skin-to-skin on mom’s chest immediately after birth. If mom is leaning back or laying down, this is tummy time for baby!
Even newborn babies will be able to briefly lift their head up shortly after birth. When doing skin-to-skin, baby’s feeding reflexes kick in and they will begin to search for food! You may see them bobbing their head and even crawling up to the breast. Even if you do not plan to breastfeed, baby will search for the breast.
Skin-to-skin is so beneficial for both baby and parents. It helps to regulate baby’s temperature, heart rate, and breathing. Skin-to-skin also helps to release oxytocin, which helps the uterus contract leading to reduced bleeding. Oxytocin also assists with the milk ejection reflex which promotes breastfeeding.
Skin-to-skin even has benefits for dads. Doing skin to skin (rather than just holding a clothed baby), helps to release dopamine and oxytocin which promotes bonding. This even helps to increase dad’s involvement as the child grows, which is pretty amazing!
Skin-to-skin provides the perfect opportunity for tummy time. You don’t have to be a breastfeeding mom to do skin-to-skin! It is beneficial for all parents and especially for baby.
Tummy Time on Parent’s Chest
Even if both parent and baby are wearing clothes, tummy time on mom or dad (or other caregiver’s) chest is beneficial.
Babies love to be close to a warm body, especially their primary caregivers’. So this is an ideal tummy time spot in the newborn period.
Many babies do really well when doing tummy time on their parent’s chest. They usually feel really comfortable and safe, which helps them to participate longer.
You can use your face and voice to encourage baby to look for you. Even a very young baby will orient toward their parent and notice sounds and faces in their environment.
Does Babywearing Count as Tummy Time?
Yes, babywearing counts as tummy time! Is it the same as tummy time on the floor? No! It does not completely replace tummy time on the floor.
But baby wearing can be a great way to not only bond with your newborn and keep them calm, but to also work on head control. Babies naturally turn their head during baby wearing and practice briefly holding their head up.
This position is of course different than laying on the floor face down, but it still has benefits. It works on similar skills that baby needs to succeed in floor tummy time including strengthening the neck extensors.
The stronger baby gets and the better head control they have, the easier tummy time will be. Babywearing is one of the most beneficial activities you can do for your newborn’s overall development.
My favorite baby carrier for newborns is the Baby K’tan. It is soft and cozy like a wrap, but it is already wrapped into loops, making it much easier to put on. It also comes in different sizes so you can make sure it fits your body well.
After baby is 2-3 months old, my favorite carriers are Ergo Baby and Lillebaby because they provide some of the best ergonomics for the parent wearing the baby. They also are both very well made and fit most babies really well.
This is my 3-week-old son resting comfortable in his Baby K’tan.
For more information about the benefits of babywearing check out our Babywearing article.
Tummy Time on the Floor
Doing tummy time on mom or dad’s chest is a great option in the early days. But moving to the floor after the first few weeks is important.
When babies are in utero, they are squished into tight flexion in the fetal position. It can take them a few weeks to stretch out a bit and they may initially be somewhat uncomfortable being on the floor.
But by a few weeks of age, newborns should be spending some time on the floor. This doesn’t just refer to tummy time, but to floor time in other positions as well.
While there is nothing wrong with using a swing or bouncer when you need to take a shower or wash some dishes, it is best to keep use of these items to a minimum. Overuse of devices that contain your baby (often referred to as “containers” by professionals), can lead to developmental delays and increase the risk of plagiocephaly and torticollis.
If your baby is okay with it, putting them in a crib, bassinet, play yard, or pack and play is a better option when you need to get something done. These devices all allow for freedom of movement but still keep baby in a confined area to keep them safe.
If your newborn is having a hard time with tummy time on the floor, there are some things you can do to make it a little easier and more entertaining.
Tricks for Tummy Time on the Floor
- Using a pillow under baby’s chest like the Boppy is a great option, but the standard breastfeeding pillow is too large for a newborn. Boppy does sell a smaller version specifically for tummy time that works better at this age. Infantino sells a great one as well.
- Instead of buying a special pillow, you can always try rolling up a blanket or towel and positioning it under their chest.
- Tummy time mats like this 4-in-1 activity mat from Baby Einstein provide a comfortable place for your newborn to play on the floor. Water mats are inexpensive and can be deflated and put away when baby gets older, which is also a fun option.
- If you have hard flooring and want to invest in something baby can continue to use once they are rolling and crawling, a floor mat like these puzzle mats are a good option.
- Making interesting sounds for baby to turn to is a fun way to encourage them to lift their head up. This 10 piece set of rattles provides a variety of fun sounds for baby to search for.
- Interesting visual stimulation like black and white images can also help to encourage baby to raise their head up.
Tummy Time for Newborns Tips
- Keep sessions short and focus on quality rather than quantity.
- Roll baby in and out of the position to stimulate reflexes, introduce the concept of rolling, and provide gentle movement experiences.
- Incorporate tummy time into activities like diaper changes to help you remember to do tummy time throughout the day. After you change their diaper, you can roll them to their tummy. Even just 30 seconds or a minute is great and adds up over the course of the day!
- It’s okay for baby to relax during tummy time with their head down. Every moment does not need to be filled with effort!
If your baby is having a hard time with tummy time, try not to worry too much! Many babies do struggle with tummy time. Keep working on it but reach out for help from an occupational therapist or physical therapist if you need support!
For more ideas on supporting newborn development, check out our E-book “The First 12 Weeks: The Best Ways to Support Your New Baby’s Development”.
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