Everything you need for baby and nothing you don't
For those of you whose babies haven’t arrived yet, tummy time is exactly what it sounds like: time babies spend lying on their tummies. We’re talking about small babies here – ones who can’t hold their heads up yet or roll over – which is precisely why you put them on their tummies in the first place: so they strengthen their neck muscles so they can hold their own heads up. You know, for later when they want to go to a movie without a neck brace or whatever.
Just so I’ve said it, of course don’t leave your baby alone on his tummy, and, as I’m sure you’ve heard a thousand times don’t put him to sleep on his tummy.
Some babies are fine with tummy time and will hang out on their little floor mats for ten minutes at a stretch. Some babies will hate it like the plague and start crying in under sixty seconds. If you’re in the first group, yay you! However much time Arnold wants to spend on his tummy is fine. If you’re in that second group, here are a couple things you can do:
1. Don’t try for tummy time right after Murgatroyd eats. It might be upsetting his stomach.
2. Get down on the floor with him, right at his level and give him something to be interested in, namely your face. It’s the #1 most interesting thing in his life right now. #2 most interesting items include baby mirrors, black and white or brightly colored and patterned toys that make little noises that don’t drive you bananas. Anything to distract him is fine, provided you’re not, like, juggling chainsaws. Which would be dangerous. (Unless that’s your thing, of course. I don’t mean to imply that you’re not good at it or anything.)
(These tips also go for helping him learn to roll over: just put your face or that intriguing toy on the floor a little bit out of his reach. He’ll get there eventually.)
3. When he’s just had enough (and this can be 1-2 minutes later: don’t shoot for the moon if he’s miserable), roll him over onto his back before you pick him up. A child development expert at Astrid’s playgroup made a great point about this: if your baby is upset about being on his stomach and you pick him up from his stomach, he’s making the association that tummy time is something he needs to be rescued from. If you roll him over first, well then you’re just picking him up the way you do 1000 times a day. No big deal. Plus it gives him a little mini preview of what it’ll be like to roll over on his own.
Some books recommend lots and lots of tummy time, and I know moms who were super stressed about getting exact amounts of it in every day. My opinion on this, as on everything, is that moderation and sensitivity to your specific baby trump hard and fast rules. Yes, get some tummy time in every day, but don’t buy a stopwatch and have at it every two hours on the hour. If you’re regular about it, good enough. They all get there: you don’t see any kids walking around at high school graduation who can’t hold their heads up.