Tummy Time Milestones Every New Parent Should Know

Signs that your baby is making developmental strides. CanDoKiddo.com

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, odds are you've heard how important Tummy Time is for your baby's development (and perhaps you've heard a little Tummy Time controversy as well!).

But maybe you're like most parents and assume that Tummy Time is just about neck strength.

Because I'm a huge child development nerd, I love sharing with parents a glimpse of what's really going on with their babies in Tummy Time...and parents love it, too! It's like uncovering a whole secret world of skills your baby has that you otherwise would have missed. 

Understanding your baby's milestones in Tummy Time can help you more confidently and creatively play in ways that match your little nugget's unfolding abilities. It can also give you a nice idea if your baby is on track with other milestones - like rolling and crawling (learn more subtle baby milestones that can tell you if your kiddo's on track).

Tummy Time Milestones and Tips

IMPORTANT: The ages listed are general averages. Your baby may achieve these Tummy Time milestones a month or two ahead or behind the ages listed here and that is OKAY. Look for a trend of progress and discuss any specific developmental concerns with your child's doctor. Parents of preemies can also adjust age to account for baby's early arrival (subtract the weeks your baby was early from their current age, i.e. a 16 week old baby who was born 6 weeks early would be expected to be on track with a 10 week old).

The First 2 Weeks: Newborn Tummy Time

-most Tummy TIme is cheek down (limited neck range of motion keeps it from being ear down)
-baby can lift and turn head briefly with great effort
-arms are bent with hands near shoulders
-knees are bent and under hips (bootie in the air)*
-baby may make "crawling" or "pushing" motions with the feet

Tummy Time in Newborns - milestones every new parent should know. CanDoKiddo.com

*Because the typical Tummy Time position for healthy, full-term newborns does NOT have the lower belly and pelvis in contact with the floor or surface beneath them, you do not need to delay Tummy TIme until the umbilical stump falls off unless otherwise advised by your child's doctor.

Child development nerd tidbit: Starting Tummy Time in the first week of life for healthy, full-term infants can improve Tummy Time tolerance down the road. You might be surprised that most newborns tolerate this natural position very well. Even when he's not lifting his head, this early Tummy Time is very important for helping baby stretch out of his curled up fetal position from the womb. 

Looking for ways to make Tummy Time more fun for your newborn? Try face-to-face Tummy Time on a table or try rolling baby slowly on an exercise ball! Or get all 45 play ideas for the first 4-6 months of your little one's life in my book, Begin With A Blanket - packed full of Tummy Time play ideas. 

1 to 2 Month Old Tummy Time 

-baby can briefly lift head (usually bobbing, not still) to about 45 degrees
-turns head to place opposite cheek down
-comfortable with either cheek down
-legs begin to straighten in Tummy Time so that lower belly touches the surface beneath baby
-arms move further away from the body in Tummy Time and in the second month, will begin to press hands down into the surface to push the shoulders and very top of the chest up very slightly off the surface beneath

Tummy Time Milestones Every New Parent Should Know. CanDoKiddo.com

Child development nerd tidbit: Lifting the head with it turned to one side shows that baby is using the muscles of one side of the neck. As her brain-body connection develops in the first few months, she'll begin to use both sides of the neck at the same time to lift and hold her head steady in Tummy Time. It looks like she just got stronger, but actually this is one of the first times she's practicing using the two sides of her body together in a coordinated way! Be sure to discuss with your doctor if you notice your baby only looking one direction in Tummy Time, which may be an indication of tightness or weakness on one side of the neck (called Torticollis).

After the relative ease of cheek-down Tummy Time in the first few weeks of life, these early months of Tummy Time can be the toughest for your little one to tolerate. Here are some tips and tricks for increasing daily Tummy Time and for making Tummy Time more tolerable

3 Month Old Tummy Time

-lifts head 45-90 degrees and holds without bobbing
-turns head to look both directions with head lifted
-elbows most often under or in front of shoulders
-occasionally lifts shoulders and very top of chest off surface by pressing weight into forearms
-baby may accidentally roll belly to side if she turns her head too far

Child development nerd tidbit: What began as reflexive head turning to clear the airway and seek out food (the rooting reflex) has now become intentional head turning to LOOK. All that head turning and lifting is helping your little one develop and connect her movement (vestibular) and vision sensory systems, Sensory integration skills start in infancy!

4 Month Old Tummy Time

-lifts and holds head steady to 90 degrees
-presses through forearms to lift upper chest
-baby can keep chest lifted as she looks down
-baby may lift arms and legs off floor and rock or appear to be "swimming" or "flying"

What is your baby really working on in Tummy TIme - CanDoKiddo.com

Child development nerd tidbit: It seems to make no sense that your baby assumes the "swimming" or "flying" position when he sees a toy in front of him that he wants. But rest assured, alternating between two different movements - this one and propping on the forearms - is an awesome indication of motor coordination and a sign that your little one is gearing up to crawl in coming months.

5 Month Old Tummy Time

-baby is often active in Tummy Time
-beginning to reach for objects
-baby may begin to roll intentionally from belly to sidelying
-beginning to press through straight arms to lift chest off surface

Child development nerd tidbit: As baby gets more and more ability to roll out of Tummy Time, you'll likely see shorter periods of belly-down play. Continuing to offer plenty of floortime play (out of Baby Holding Devices) is important for letting your little one practice all these new skills and develop new ones. Here are some tips for babies who roll out of Tummy Time.

6-7 Month Old Tummy Time

-reaches with one arm
-beginning to push backwards on belly using arms
-may begin to assume push-up position with belly off floor
-beginning to pivot in a semi-circle using arms
-presses through hands
-comfortable with palms on floor (hands not always fisted)

Child development nerd tidbit: Did you know that Tummy Time is important for development of the hands? Yep! The fact that your little one can now press down through open hands is a result of stretching and strengthening of her finger muscles through all the weight bearing of Tummy Time in past months. 

Does Baby Need Tummy Time Anymore? 

At some point, baby becomes so skilled in Tummy Time that he basically graduates from this position. It becomes a "transitional position" - meaning he'll only move into and out of it briefly on his way to bigger and better things, like getting into hands and knees, rolling, and pushing up to sit. In general, my recommendation is to continue to give your little one plenty of daily floortime play unrestricted, but don't stress about Tummy Time.

In some cases, I do recommend parents continue to help baby have daily Tummy TIme. These include:

-to help strengthen neck muscles (as in the case of Torticollis)
-if your baby is resistant to bearing weight through the arms and hands
-if your little one has not yet achieved the Tummy Time milestones of lifting the chest off the floor and pressing through the hands (as opposed to just the forearms)
-if your baby has a flat spot on the head that he prefers to roll to when unrestricted for floortime play

Learn more about how to extend Tummy Time for bigger babies who roll but still need extra belly-down time here. 

Pretty Nifty, Huh?!

I totally geek out on this stuff and I get it if you don't. But most parents do find it at least a little fascinating to know more about how their babies acquire new skills and meet milestones. And knowing how important all the subtle things your little one is doing in Tummy Time can help motivate you to make this position a part of your baby's daily routine!