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Recommended reading Tummy time in the early days Stages: Birth to 2 months

A new baby can spend a lot of time on their backs in their first few months. They’re often sleeping on their backs, or lying in car seat capsules, buggies or bouncers.

Sometimes babies don’t like being on their tummies, probably because they’re not used to that position. A young baby may have very little opportunity to be on their puku — especially nowadays, when we don’t let babies sleep on their tummies because of the risk of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI).

Also, their little heads are still quite soft and flexible. This way they can squeeze down the narrow birth canal and allow for the amazing brain growth in their first year.

Why tummy time is important

Giving young babies some regular opportunities to change their position from always being on their back is beneficial for a couple of reasons.

  1. Firstly, to avoid ‘head flattening’ (the medical term is ‘positional plagiocephaly’). This can happen when a baby spends too much time lying on the same part of their head. Parents need to turn baby’s head to a different side each time they lay them down for a sleep.
  2. Secondly, to strengthen their neck and shoulder muscles, which will help them to hold their heads in an upright position.

Ways to get tummy time

If whānau aren’t keen for tummy time on the floor, suggest ‘tummy-to-tummy’ with one of the parents, instead. Mum or dad lie on their back and have baby lie on their chest. Tummy-to-tummy has the added motivation for a baby to lift their head to look at mum or dad’s face. It’s also reassuring for them not only to see their parent’s face, but also to feel their parent’s body under them and hear mum or dad talking to them.

If baby is on the floor, a small rolled towel under their chest and underarms will help raise their head up and give them a better view. Don’t leave them there on their own though, it’s an odd new experience for them, and they may get distressed.

After a nappy change might be a good opportunity for some tummy time. Roll baby gently onto their tummy by raising one of their arms above their head and then slowly moving the opposite leg across their body so they naturally turn onto their puku. This can be a less frightening experience for baby than suddenly seeing the floor coming towards them as you put them tummy down.

Other ways to get tummy time are:

  • carrying baby lying over a parent’s forearm and held securely by the parent’s arm kept close at their side, with baby’s head supported by a hand under their jawline
  • laying them over a parent’s lap while the parent sits comfortably in a chair or on the floor.

A young baby may only tolerate tummy time for a couple of minutes at first, and that’s okay. If they start to cry after only a very short time, parents can try coaxing them to stay a bit longer by talking and playing with them, but don’t force it. If they’ve obviously had enough and are getting distressed, it’s better to pick them up, have a cuddle and have another try later.

A little regular practice with tummy time helps baby to get stronger and gain more control over their body.

Further information

Flat head syndrome article - Kidshealth in new window

Tummy time – safe tummy time solutions Youtube




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