How To Do Tummy Time Even if Baby Hates It

Even if baby cries when you do tummy time, it is so important. Here are ways to do tummy time when baby hates it so you can avoid developmental delays. Learn the best age for tummy time, how long it should be, tummy time alternatives, and what to do if baby hates tummy time.

Baby Brinley doing tummy time

I have a good friend who is a physical therapist. One of the things she did was go to people’s homes and work with children who have developmental delays. Some of these babies are delayed simply because they haven’t had enough physical time to flex muscles. It isn’t because of anything genetic or physically wrong with the child.

Because I love to know things, I started asking her all sorts of questions about tummy time back when McKenna was a baby. Here are some of her thoughts on tummy time and avoiding preventable developmental delays.


I asked her what age she recommends you start tummy time. She said from birth. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also recommends from birth.

Now, if you have a baby and have never done tummy time, please do not panic. I once saw a question from a mom who had a two week old and she was concerned because she hadn’t started tummy time yet. It’s okay! Just start now. I remember being a first time mom and being very sure to have Brayden’s tummy time each day from birth. If I missed a day, I worried.

I know it is natural to worry like crazy when you are a parent, but try to relax. If you haven’t done it, just start. Better late than never.

>>>Read: How To Get Your Baby Playing Independently


How many minutes of tummy time does your baby need? You can start with about five minutes at a time. As your baby gets older and stronger, you will add time. You can get up to 15-30 minutes each day. As I discuss later in this post, it is okay for the length to vary from day to day depending on your babys disposition that day.


If your baby hates it, you might be wondering WHY you even need to?

It is recommended that infants sleep on their backs. They spend a lot of time on the back. Because of this, you need some intentional time on the stomach each day to develop other muscles. This is an important step in developing other motor skills. Doing tummy time will increase neck strength, upper body strength, and core strength.

This will lead to developmental milestones being met, like rolling over and crawling. It will also help change up the pressure placed on your baby’s head and prevent flat head syndrome, torticollis, or baby developing a flat spot.

Having strong muscles also helps your baby to prevent SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).


You can think outside the box on this. Remember the why as to the reason you are doing tummy time. It isn’t so your child will lay face down on the floor and cry each day. It is to exercise muscles that are not exercised while lying on the back.

Some babies really, really hate tummy time for a variety of reasons. Brayden hated it I believe because he wanted to look at the world around him. Kaitlyn hated it because it aggravated her reflux. McKenna actually had problem with it because I was a few years older and a whole lot wiser than I was when Brayden was a baby. Brinley, my youngest, was also fine with tummy time.

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Here are some suggestions to have successful tummy time including traditional tummy time alternatives. Do keep in mind that there is a line between giving your child the opportunity to practice skills she is able to do and forcing her to do things she isn’t ready for. Forcing a child will cause harm. Follow her lead, but don’t let her not liking it or feeling discomfort prevent you from helping her exercise her muscles.

  • Hold baby upright: Hold baby upright from the beginning. Don’t always hold baby up to your body, all snuggled in. Have your baby in a position where she can practice holding her head up by herself. Again, do this when baby can physically do it. If you have her over your shoulder, she can work on lifting her head and strengthing neck muscles.
  • On chest in recliner: Sit in a recliner and recline back a bit. Put your baby on your chest. Baby will hold her head up in order to look at you. This is a good exercise for the newborn. It is also good for the reflux baby. As baby gets older, you can recline further and increase the incline baby is working against.
  • Blanket or boppy: A lot of babies who hate tummy time on the floor will be okay with it propped up on a blanket or boppy pillow. This is another good way to do tummy time for a baby with reflux. Another option is to use a rolled-up towel. You could also get a tummy time pillow. Babies have a lot of gear, so the tummy time pillow by Boppy can fill the role of a nursing pillow and a tummy time pillow.
  • On couch: For the baby who really just hates to be on her tummy because she wants to see you, you can put her on the couch. Then you sit on the floor in front of her and you are eye level with each other. You can talk to her and make funny faces.
  • On chest on floor: Also for the baby who wants to see the world, you can put baby on your chest as you lay on the floor.
  • On floor with toys/mommy: I finally wised up when McKenna was a baby. I realized tummy time in and of itself is not a fun activity. For some reason, I had thought it was. When she was a baby, I realized it must be boring. So I would get on the floor with my face close to hers. As a newborn, I would just look at her so I didn’t overstimulate. As she got older, we interacted more with each other. I also would put a toy in front of her to look at and work toward.
  • Tummy time mat: A blanket with toys can definitely be good enough. You can also use an activity gym to put baby on for playtime. They do also make tummy time mats for babies.
  • Where the action is: Something I read was to put baby on the floor where she can see you doing chores. If you lay her so she can look up and watch you as you do the dishes or put away laundry, it will give her something interesting to look at. It will also give her reason to turn her head and get more exercise.
  • On your shins: I like to put McKenna on my shins while I lay on the floor. She loves to look at my face. Then I sway my legs around and give her a ride. I asked my friend about that and she said it is great once baby has stable head control.
  • Put things out of her reach: When you have your child on the floor, whether on her tummy or back, leave toys just out of her reach. Somewhere around 4-6 months, most babies will work to get a toy out of their reach. I always give my kids their toys, and when it falls out of their reach, I give it back to them. After talking to my friend, the next day I put McKenna’s toy just out of her reach while she was laying on her back playing on the floor. She looked at it for a while, then she started to work on rolling over to try to get it. She worked and worked and finally rolled over! That was fast results.
  • Use a yoga ball or exercise ball: You can place your baby belly side down on a ball. Hold baby so he will not roll off. Get in front of baby so baby will raise his head to look at you. You can gently roll your baby to help calm fussiness.
  • Cheer her on: As you see your baby working on a skill, cheer her on. Tell her to keep trying and show her how impressed you are at her efforts. When she is successful, cheer her one. All kids love to be cheered on…all people love to be cheered on! When I cheered for McKenna, she got a very pleased smile and would do it over and over. She rolled back and forth and back and forth…all because she loved the cheering.
  • Allow frustration: My friend told me this one and then said I probably already tell parents that all the time. Well, yes, but I also have a hard time letting my children get frustrated as they are playing. Remember me, the helicopter mom to Brayden? I hover? When he was a baby, I rushed to rescue him at the first peep. While I was better about that with Kaitlyn in most cases, I was not with tummy time because I knew it was painful for her (which I think was the right move–but I didn’t think of alternative tummy time activities or different tummy time positions). With McKenna, I gave her time to work on it. My friend said you don’t want them to get so upset that it is hard to console them when you do rescue them, but give them a few extra seconds to work on it. It will give their muscles a little extra work out.
  • Move child for him if he can’t: Once you go to rescue your baby, don’t just rescue him. Help him move his body the way he needs to in order to get out of the position. Help him roll his body over. Help him sit up, sit down, walk a step…move his body for him so he understands how to do it.
  • Avoid too much time in bouncers, jumpers, etc.: My friend says that most of the babies she sees who have developmental delays spend hours each day in bouncers, jumpers, swings, etc. I was really careful with McKenna to not put her in things too often. She spent most of her playing time on the floor. She was just fine with that and had no complaints.
  • Reap what you sow: Realize that you will reap what you sow. I was looking at pictures and realized that when Kaitlyn was McKenna’s age, she was sitting on her own. McKenna wasn’t close to it. Why the difference? Besides the fact that they are different people, most of Kaitlyn’s time was spent sitting upright since she had reflux. It really hurt her to lay down, so she didn’t lay on the floor to play at all. I would hold her sitting up to play. She was advanced for her age because of that. McKenna was more advanced at floor stuff because of her time doing that. So your baby will deveop the muscles she exercises.

>>>Read: Blanket Time Full Guide

Hopefully this will give you some good ideas for implementing tummy time and other exercising opportunities for your baby.

Baby on the tummy on a colorful fun mat


Those tips are all nice and good, but what if your baby absolutley hates tummy time? It isn’t uncommon for a baby to dislike tummy time. Your baby might hate it just because your baby hasn’t done enough of it. But it might be that your baby is like my daughter Kaitlyn and has something that makes it painful.

Tummy time can be hard. It is basically exercising, and we can all related to hating pushing ourselves through exercise. Here are some tips:

  • Keep doing it: Do not give up on tummy time just because baby hates it. This is an important part of your baby’s day.
  • Do tummy time when baby is happy and alert: If you read Brinley’s summaries on this blog, you will see that I comment that I did tummy time when she was happy and alert. This will be as soon after your baby’s feeding as possible. You will want to make sure your baby doesn’t spit up if it is too soon close to feeding time. It will also be earlier in the day. Do not leave tummy time for right before bedtime.
  • Try the different positions and locations: I shared a lot of different positions and locaitons you can try to do tummy time in the section above. You don’t have to just put baby tummy side down on a blanket and leave baby to be upset. Try different things. Different positions can help them lift their head and see more while they are working to develop those muscles.
  • Keep it interesting: This can be part of the different positions and locaitons. You also want to provide toys. Maybe you provide yoruself on the floor talking ot your baby.
  • Be flexible with length of time: Something else I mention in my Brinley newborn summaries is that the length of time she spent in tummy time varried depending on her mood that day. The length of time does not have to be black and white. You can let a baby go a little longer if things are going well. You can cut it a little shorter if baby just isn’t feeling it that day.


While tummy time can be hard and frustrating, it is necessary for your baby’s development. Make sure you do it each day and give your infant time to develop the muscles. Also feel free to change up the positions to find something that your baby will like but will still exerise the necessary muscles.

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Tummy time even if baby hates it

This post first appeared on this blog in September 2009

11 thoughts on “How To Do Tummy Time Even if Baby Hates It”

  1. My little girl has torticollis (tight SCM muscle) and has been behind on tummy time b/c her neck hurts and i didnt start her early enough (around 1 month). When we did start, she fussed like crazy. But at my physical therapists suggestion, we started holding her on her tummy on our arm. Her legs straddled our arm, her tummy and chest was on our forearm and our hand was on her chest with our fingers available to help her head when needed. She seemed to enjoy this more. We would let her "fly" around the house. It was a HUGE help in getting her to comply and not just lay there and face plant/scream. She got quite a work out from it!!! 🙂

  2. I've got a question for you and I don't think you've answered it before. We took our 16 month old son to Taiwan with us for a two week trip. The time difference is 12 hours, so we had a heck of a time convincing him to sleep during the day and vice versa. Right before we left, he got pretty good. Now we are back at home and after a week, all of the jet lag is gone but my son is now taking 3 hours to fall asleep-literally! He's been a babywise baby his whole life and we've never had a problem with sleeping, esp falling asleep! Any suggestions?

  3. Hi Val – I wasn't sure where to post this as this is a schedule AND sleeping question. My baby is 9.5 months old and was a textbook babywise baby. He is big for his agegroup. 25 lbs and 31 inches long. His eating schedule is as follows. I'm sure you and your readers will be startled to what our schedule has turned into:8 am: 8 oz formula9 am: solids10-12: nap12: 6 oz formula1 pm: solids3 pm: 5 oz formula and nap3-5: nap6 pm: Dinner w/ water8 pm: 8 oz formulaHe gets snacks, too – just like puffs, cheerios, of toast… I know I'm going against the "schedule" but it seemed to have been working for us. However, now I'm not so sure. During the day – he is GREAT! Naps are awesome, his mood is great, etc… However… he has started to wake up in the middle of the night. And while he can usually fall back asleep on his own w/in 10-15 minutes, he has begun waking up really early. Like at 5 am some mornings – and will not got back to bed! Today, he woke up at 5 am again, he fell back asleep, but then was up at 7 am, and has been up since then. He's not crying when he gets up, but he is saying things like "ma-ma" while he's in the crib, in a whiney voice. When I go in there, his head is usually wedged in the corner of his crib, so I just reposition him, and he's fine for about 10 minutes. I'm not sure what it could be… teething? learning how to pull himself up? hunger?? He's been doing this for about 2 weeks now. I have thought about giving him food w/ his formula at his last feeding at 8 pm, but I'm not so sure if that's a good idea?? He can go through 1 – 1.5 CUPS of food in about 10 minutes w/o even blinking. Do you think that's enough for a 25 lb baby? I mean, what if he's going through a growth spurt?Anywhoo — sorry I've rambled on. I'm curios to hear your thoughts on this, as I'm to my wits end!Thank you!!Ann

  4. My son hated "tummy time" and we didn't do it a lot with him but in the end he is quite ahead of most other kids so I don't put a lot of stock in "if you don't do tummy time regularly, your child may be developmentally delayed." Sorry, my son was walking by 8 months and running by 9 and that's even without "tummy time."

  5. Thanks for these tips on tummy time, I'll definitely keep them in mind with my next baby 🙂 Tobias absolutely hated tummy time as an infant and he still wasn't rolling over at 5 months old. I talked to the doctor and she said he needed tummy time even if he fussed so I had to do tummy time in 5 minute increments 3 times a day. I also worked with him to teach him to roll over and he did it within 2 weeks of me implementing the 3 tummy time sessions. Ann, have you read Babywise II? Ezzo has some good tips in that book and he really stresses combining milk and solid feedings together. That is also helpful because it starts to align the baby's meals with the family. I don't know for sure if that would help the sleep issues but as you know from the newborn days a child's feeding habits really can affect the sleeping habits. Hopefully Valerie has some tips for you as well!

  6. Ann,Hi, I read your post and thought I might suggest something. Of course Valeries is the expert, so definitely wait for her advice too! But looking at the schedule, maybe your LO is getting too much daytime sleep. Maybe shorten the AM nap by 30 min or so, and then make the PM nap slightly earlier. This would give your LO a little less daytime sleep and also a longer waketime before bed. Maybe the waking during the night/and early AM is because there is too much daytime sleep. Just a suggestion! I know that eventually babies will drop that AM nap all together and it is a gradual process. Good luck!

  7. Katie, I think it is just going to take time and patience on your part. Just be patient while he is taking his time to fall asleep. He will get back to it, it will just take time to get there. That is a big disruption on a little guy! He can do it.

  8. Ann, it could be a snacking in the day issue. I would try feeding him solids as soon as the bottle is over. It definitely could also be teething and pulling up or a growth spurt.So far as how much he should eat for his size…I am unsure. That would be a good question for your pedi.

  9. Miranda, Brayden also didn't do tummy time and started cruising around furniture at 7 months. But he wasn't a baby who lay on the ground all day doing nothing. He exercised his muscles in lots of different ways. As this post says, you can get exercise in ways other than laying on the floor on the tummy. I would wager that your son got lots of exercise in ways other than traditional tummy time. Muscles just don't develop unless you exercise them.


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