What is tummy time?

Tummy time is an important activity to develop head control, strengthen neck and back muscles and is an important precursor to developing later skills such as crawling. 

The benefits of tummy time are well established. The USA’s successful back to sleep campaign in 1992  has been a resounding success in reducing cases of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), however in the years following, it became apparent that babies were slower to attain developmental milestones such as rolling over, sitting up and crawling.
This was found to be directly related to reduced time spent lying on their tummy and from here the concept of awake tummy time was born.

Tummy time, however, is not easy. Babies heads are very large and heavy and their necks are weak. It becomes very hard for them to lift their heads when on their tummy and babies can often get upset.

What does a tummy time pillow do?

Do babies really need tummy time pillows? Well the short answer is no, but the long answer is maybe!

When babies are placed on their tummy, they often tuck their legs up underneath them meaning that all their weight tips forward onto their upper body and head which makes it even harder for them to lift their head.

This is where a tummy time pillow comes into play! By using a small roll, this lifts their chest, head and shoulders and moves their weight down towards their pelvis making it easier for babies to work on lifting their head, building up the strength in their neck and back muscles and makes the experience far more pleasant for both babies and parents.

What to look for in a tummy time pillow

  • Size – most commercial tummy time pillows tend to be quite large, but smaller ones are actually better.
    When the pillow or roll is placed under your baby’s chest you still want them to be able to place their hands down on the floor so that they can begin to learn to push up through their arms to support their weight rather than ‘swimming’ with their arms up and over using their back muscles. So the key here when choosing the right tummy time pillow or roll is to make it no higher than your baby’s arm length.
  • Shape – there are all sorts of shapes of tummy time pillows available, ideally a roll or wedge shape works best.
    If you choose a wedge shape, this should go down to almost nothing at the thin edge and should be no longer than the length between your baby’s chest and pelvis. Ideally you want their hips flat on the floor and not raised up.
  • Firmness – the pillow needs to be firm enough that it doesn’t collapse under your baby’s weight, however it needs to be soft enough that it is comfortable to lie on.
  • Material – babies dribble –  a lot! They will dribble and may also bring up some milk while on the tummy time pillow. The most important factor in the fabric is to make sure it’s easily washable!
    The duller the colour and pattern the better, as the pillow is not a toy. So if positioned correctly they shouldn’t really be able to see it. Bright colours can actually be distracting and may encourage a baby to look down at the pillow rather than lifting their head up.

Do I need to buy a specialist tummy time pillow?

No, in fact our top recommendation is to just use a rolled up blanket or towel. Roll it up into a tight sausage so that it is soft but firm. This means that it is also washable and you can adjust the height perfectly to your child. Only roll as much as you need to get the right height.

How do I use a tummy time pillow with my baby?

The standard recommendation is that babies spend around 30 minutes a day on their tummies.
There is a common misconception that this needs to be done all in one go but this is not the case.
Little and often is the best approach. It keeps tummy time fun and reduces upset for everyone involved. Our advice is to build it into your daily routine, such as during every nappy change. 

  • It’s best to always start with your baby on their back, then gently roll them over onto their tummy.
  • If it’s difficult to roll over the tummy time pillow or roll, you may then need to pop the tummy time pillow or roll under their chest once they are on their tummy.
  • Make sure you position the roll so it is under their upper chest but not under their arms so that your baby can place their hands down on the floor comfortably.
  • Make sure your baby keeps their bottom down with their legs out behind them. It may help to place a gentle but firm hand on their bottom to help this.
  • Choose simple toys that your child can look at; a mirror, our baby flash cards or the best toy of all… You!
    It’s best to avoid toys that require your child to use their hands to start with as they need to use their hands to push up – we love 
    Taf Toys Kimmy Koala Tummy-Time Book as a great tummy time toy.

Whilst a tummy time pillow is not essential, it may help make the experience a little easier in the early stages until your baby has built up enough strength to push up onto their arms and lift their head whilst on their tummy by themselves.
So just grab a towel and practice tummy time with your baby – the key with tummy time is to keep it enjoyable!

We’d love to know if this helped you so please do leave us comments and even pictures to let us know how you get on.

If you need help across any areas of your child’s development, or more information on the importance of tummy time take a look at the different ways in which we can support you here at The Practical Child