My Baby Hates Tummy Time: Everything You Need To Know

Updated: Aug 4


My Baby Hates Tummy Time

Do babies really need tummy time? What do you do if they hate tummy time? Should you just let your child cry through it? Nobody likes to feel like they're forcing their little one to suffer with physical discomfort. Our instinct is to pick them us and make the noises stop.

When you're a new parent, your doctor has likely told you always to put your child on their back while sleeping or napping. Perhaps you don't realize that your baby should also spend time lying on their belly while wide awake.

Since the 1990s, pediatricians have asked parents to only lay babies on their backs to sleep to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Although SIDS mortality rates declined by 50%, some babies also developed flat spots on their heads, known as positional plagiocephaly, and some were slower to reach developmental milestones.

This article offers suggestions for making tummy time a positive experience for your little one…and you.


In the article:

What is Tummy Time?

Why is tummy time important?

Is putting an infant on their tummy dangerous?

When do babies start tummy time?

Tummy time supplies

Why does your baby hate tummy time?

What to do when your baby hates tummy time?

Alternatives to Tummy Time

Tummy Time: What is it?


Tummy time is when your baby lies on their tummy while awake and supervised. The term was officially born when the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) started recommending that all babies should be placed on their tummies while awake as much as possible.

Tummy Time is a perfect moment to play (and bond) with your baby and teach them new skills. With so much time spent on their back in their early days and night, tummy time is crucial for your baby's gross motor (big muscle) development. It helps to develop their back, neck, and shoulder muscles, and it also helps them to learn how to control their heads and upper bodies.


Tummy time is a workout for babies!

Since infants cannot get into this position on their own, you must place them on their bellies.

⚠️ Never leave your child unsupervised on their tummy to avoid what's known as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Remember this phrase: "Back to sleep, tummy to play."


Why is tummy time important?

After the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) launched its "Back to Sleep" Campaign in 1994, they decreased the Sudden Infant Death Rate (SIDS) rate by nearly 50%.

While AAP initiated safe sleeping practices, physicians noticed that it took babies a little longer to reach some developmental milestones like sitting up, rolling over, and crawling.

Studies also showed an increased number of babies with a condition called "plagiocephaly", or flat spots on their heads, caused by spending most of their time lying on their backs.

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Tummy time builds babies' arm, shoulder, stomach, and back strength. It helps babies learn to push up to all fours, roll over, sit up, crawl, and pull to a stand — and helps them develop a nice round head.

When your infant is on their belly, they have to look up to see people and objects. Tummy time gives babies a new perspective on the world, which builds their thinking skills. And when babies reach for toys during tummy time, they develop arm, hand, and finger skills and hand-eye coordination.

Babies can't practice lifting their heads, reaching, turning over, and other skills they will eventually need for crawling, sitting up, and walking without spending time on their tummies.

More specifically, tummy time helps your baby:


  • Strengthen the muscles they'll use to sit, crawl, and walk. Improved upper body strength.

  • Reduced muscle tightness in the neck

  • Practice lifting their head and chest

  • Improve motor skills

  • Improve hand-eye coordination (they will reach for toys during tummy time)

  • Avoid getting a flat head

  • May help reduce gas and constipation


> Related: Is Your Baby on Track for Motor Milestones?

Now, let's discuss when to start tummy time, what to do if your baby doesn't like tummy time, and talk about some alternative tummy time activities.

Is putting an infant on its tummy dangerous?


A 1995 Journal of Pediatric Medicine study found that 25% of parents never put their babies on their bellies to play due to fear of SIDS.

However, tummy time is perfectly safe for newborns as long as they are awake and supervised. If they start to look sleepy, put them on their back.

You need to watch your child because their necks are very weak, and they can't lift them off the ground even to take a breath.

Avoid tummy time for 30 minutes after a feeding. The stomach contents can force the sphincter open and flood back up the esophagus.

In rare cases, tummy time might not be safe, such as if a baby was born prematurely. If you are not sure whether tummy time is right for your baby, talk with your baby's pediatrician, and they can give you safe recommendations for tummy time.

When do babies start tummy time?


Tummy time is essential for your baby's development.

All babies born full-term with no health issues should be doing some form of tummy time right away unless instructed otherwise by a pediatrician.


The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends giving your baby some tummy time on their first day home from the hospital.


It might sound weird to hear about starting tummy time as soon as you get home. After all, a brand new baby isn't going to play on their tummy.

Remember: tummy time is all about head and neck control and strengthening the muscles necessary to lift their head off the ground and avoid a flat head.

Don't be surprised if your newborn can tolerate only 1-2 minutes of tummy time a few times a day. Lots of babies protest at being on their bellies, at least initially.

As your baby ages, gradually increase the time during each session. Aim to give your little one 30 minutes a day on their tummy by 3 months of age. They will begin to press their chest further and further off the ground, continuing to build arm, chest, and back strength, all muscle groups that help with sitting, crawling and walking.


Is it ever too late to start tummy time?

The sooner you start tummy time, the easier they'll adjust to being on their stomach. If you wait too long, your baby will be so unfamiliar with that position that they might hate it even more. But it's never too late to start. So even if your baby is already 7 months old, it's better to start tummy time now.


Is there such a thing as too much tummy time?

No. If your baby is awake, they can be on their tummy. This position is excellent for helping your baby gain confidence in exploring the world around them, playing, and bonding.


When is the best time to do tummy time?

Try to practice tummy time when your baby is well-rested and in a happy mood so that it's a positive experience. Many babies have great times after a diaper change or when they just woke up from a nap.


How can I keep my baby safe during tummy time?

Never let your baby sleep on their stomach, even for short naps. Your baby should always be awake for tummy time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that if your baby falls asleep while tummy time, roll them onto their back – the safest sleeping position!


Tummy time supplies

The only essential supply for tummy time is a flat surface and blanket (or a mat) to put your baby on.

However, you can make it more fun by introducing your little one to toys and nonbreakable mirrors when they get a little older.


Here are a few ideas for things you can try:


You can find these items online or at the stores that sell baby products. You may also be able to borrow them from friends or get them at secondhand stores or through parenting groups.

How to pick a Tummy Time mat?


1. Make sure it is soft enough to catch a "heavy head" when your baby gets tired, but not so soft enough that it becomes a safety hazard.


2. Make sure it is made of a material that can easily be washed with a damp cloth or in a washing machine.


3. We recommend choosing a mat with simple patterns that will not be a distraction to your baby's play.

Why do babies hate tummy time?

You can put a baby on their tummy, but you can't make them happy on it. Some tots love playing on their stomachs, and others might act like they can't stand it. It's very common for babies to hate tummy time, especially at first.

Another way to think about your baby's reaction to tummy time that might ease your mind is that it doesn't mean they are unhappy when they grunt and struggle.

Babies dislike tummy time for many reasons.

If your baby seems miserable on their belly, it could be because the position is new and unfamiliar to them. They're mostly on their backside in their first few months, so they often will protest being on their tummy.


For many little ones, tummy time can seem like torture — especially before they develop the muscles they need to lift their heads out of this awkward face-plant position.


First, you are cutting off the visual field; they can't see much of anything from down there. Think about it. When a child is on their back or supported in sitting, they are free to look out into the world and use their vision to learn, grow and move. When you place the baby flat on the stomach, a child has to use the newly developing neck and shoulder muscles to lift the head against gravity which cuts the visual field way down. This is usually frustrating to an infant who relies heavily on visual input for development.


Second, the child is moving against gravity. If your baby cries during tummy time, it is most likely because lifting their head against gravity can be challenging for infants. By being placed on the stomach, the child has to use their arm, shoulder, neck, and back strength in order to pivot to reach for toys.


This is way more challenging than positions on the back or side. Engaging their developing muscles is a workout!


Think of the sounds you make when you do push-ups or lift a heavy object. We build strength when we work at it.


But don't mistake grunting and exertion for crying. Tummy time is hard work, and your little one will likely make lots of noise! And who can blame them? Being stuck face-down, unable to move much, would probably bother you too.


Let your infant get used to the feel of the pressure on their stomach, arms, and legs when they lay in this position. If they really fuss or cry, tell them that you hear them, gently roll them from tummy to back, and continue playing on the floor.


Babies with big heads and average-sized bodies or low muscle tone can find tummy time difficult — instead of crying, they will usually rest their heads to the side.


Torticollis, or tight neck muscles, can also make tummy time difficult and uncomfortable for babies.


Signs that your baby may have a tight neck include:

  • only turning their head to one side,

  • flattening of an area on the head,

  • breastfeeding better on one side more than the other,

  • crying when pulling clothes over their head or arms.

Other babies can suffer from symptomatic reflux — this is where regurgitation of acidic stomach contents causes pain and is quite different from 'happy chucking.' 'Happy chuckers' won't blink an eye after vomiting or positing — it's not at all painful.

In symptomatic reflux, pressure on the stomach during tummy time can result in more regurgitation and pain — not fun!

What if they have reflux?

Many babies who experience reflux (frequently spitting up after feeding) have a low tolerance to tummy time.

Wait at least 30 minutes after feeding to put them on their tummy to improve their comfort level.

It is helpful to slowly transition them to their stomach by allowing them to play while positioned on their back.

After a few minutes, gradually roll them to their side (preferably the left).

Allow them to play in that position for a few minutes before helping them roll to play on their stomachs.


Your baby's tolerance for tummy time will improve with practice and a little encouragement. Many small children become more content with their tummy as they become stronger and feel more in control. Think of it as your own workout: it's much more enjoyable as you get accustomed to it.

You can try a few things to help your little one and make it more enjoyable for you both.


What to do when baby hates tummy time?

Hearing your little one cry every time they're placed on their belly is hard—but it doesn't mean you should give up on tummy time.


Be aware of the difference between your baby crying because they are angry and crying because they're distressed.


Babies are smart and have developed a great physiological way to get Mom's attention -- the cry.


When a child is placed in a new and challenging position, they use that form of communication to let Mom know that they are no longer in the comfort of the swaddle but forced to move in a new way.


Babies learn early that crying gets them picked up. If your baby gets upset or cries during tummy time, try not to pick him up immediately. Consider allowing them to cry for 30 seconds before picking them up. Instead, comfort them in other ways first, like rubbing their back or singing soothing songs.


Provide them with reassurance and encouragement.


It can be hard to understand the difference between minor discomfort and distress. Watch for central nervous system reactions such as their face turning red or them holding their breath. A bit of frustration and discomfort is expected at the beginning, but don't push a distressed baby -- pick them up and try again later.


Begin slowly and be patient, even if they don't appear to like it. Start with what they can tolerate and gradually add more time. When they begin to tolerate 3-5 minutes, switch to 5-8 minutes, then to 8-12 minutes. Aim for about 30 minutes a day, but you can break these up over the day if your baby's really resistant. There's no need for them to be miserable.


Remember! If your baby hates tummy time, even seconds of tummy time throughout the day will slowly increase the neck and back's endurance and strength. Seconds will eventually turn into minutes. Don't give up!


It may feel counterintuitive, but the more time your baby spends on their tummy, the stronger they'll be—and the more they'll hopefully like it. Beyond placing a boppy pillow or rolled-up towel under your baby's chest, try getting down on your belly too; speak quietly to encourage them, make funny faces, sing songs, and play with your baby's favorite toys.


Try not to make tummy time a chore. It's an excellent opportunity to bond with your baby.


Here are some ideas: 20 Tummy Time Activities.

Avoid mobile phones and other electronics to get their attention.

Eventually, even the most resistant babies will come to enjoy tummy time!

After doing it consistently, you will be amazed to see your baby lifting their head and looking around.

Make sure your baby isn't tired or hungry but wait about 30 min after feeding to avoid spit-ups or acid reflux. A good time to practice tummy time is when your baby wakes up from a nap.

Some parents roll babies over on their tummies for a few minutes after every diaper change — it's easy to remember. Your baby may also enjoy the view if they're up on a changing table. But keep a hand close to prevent them from rolling off.

A common misconception is that tummy time is a specific activity scheduled every day at a set time. In fact, any time your baby spends on their stomach counts. The best way to approach it is to build it into whatever you're doing with your baby during the day (and night!).

While many babies can dislike tummy time, each baby will have their own hang-up with the process. Sometimes, solutions are simple. Does your baby want a different blanket to lie down on? Do they prefer tummy time when they're naked as opposed to when they're dressed? Change up little things and pay attention to how your baby reacts.

That said, some babies may never like tummy time—but that doesn't mean they can't work on their muscles. Finding an alternative to tummy time can be an excellent option to help your baby grow as best they can!

Alternatives to Tummy Time

Tummy time is essential to achieving a baby's developmental milestones, but if they're just not taking to tummy time, the baby (and you) shouldn't be miserable.

If your baby is really not feeling it, try your best for 30 minutes a day — alternating between carries and other tummy time positions. Do different exercises to help your baby build upper body strength, like encouraging their neck to move around when you're holding them. Use your intuition— if you think something's up, don't hesitate to talk to your doctor.

Lap Laying

Babies love to be close to and interact with their primary caregivers, which can be difficult if they can't lift their heads enough to look at you. Enter lap laying!

Position baby belly-down across your lap, and use a hand to hold them or gently pat their pat. They may be happy enough simply hanging out there, but you can always hold them with one hand and use another hand to put a mirror or toy in their line of vision.



Tummy to Tummy

Tummy-to-tummy time gives babies an up-close view of their favorite thing to look at -- your face! This helps them feel secure and engaged during tummy time.


Lie down, either flat or with your upper body supported by a pillow. Position baby on your upper belly/lower chest. Talk, sing, dangle a toy between your faces…whatever keeps it fun.

Holding Tummy-Down

Similar to lap laying, this helps your baby feel close to you while on their tummy and allows for carrying or swaying.


Use your arms and hands to support the baby's chest and belly. Hold, sway, or carry them face-down.


Should you be doing anything else to help your baby develop motor skills? How do you know if they're on track for milestones?


Download the Pathfinder Health app.


Pathfinder Health is the only app that empowers you to effectively track your child's development against CDC and AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) clinical guidelines, identify concerns, and helps provide data-driven inputs to your primary care provider.

Takeaway

Tummy time is for your baby's head, neck, and back development. It's also an excellent opportunity for you to read to, sing to, play with, and bond with your little one.


Be sure never to leave them alone or allow them to fall asleep on their tummy during tummy time. If they start to look sleepy, put them on their backs in their crib. It's the safest way and place for them to sleep.

Hopefully, this will help you if your baby hates tummy time, so you both can enjoy it and make some great memories!


The most important thing to remember about tummy time is it's a process. Not all babies are the same, and that's what makes this world so great. Despite the chaos, you are doing a great job! Enjoy these sweet moments with your little one and have fun celebrating each milestone.


Talk with their pediatrician if you have any concerns about tummy time or if your baby isn't meeting developmental milestones.


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Please note: We rely on credible sources to create our content: health organizations, doctors, and published studies in peer-reviewed journals. The Pathfinder Health blog and its information are not intended and do not constitute medical advice or diagnosis and should not be used. You should always consult a qualified physician or health professional about your circumstances.


Pathfinder Health Author