crying baby who hates tummy time

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I’m well-versed in babies who hate tummy time. I’ve had four babies and tummy time was a challenge for each of them (and me). If your baby hates tummy time too, don’t worry! I’ve developed a lot of tips and tricks to make tummy time easier for babies who don’t like it (and their parents!).

But before the tummy time tips, let’s start with a few reasonable questions:

crying baby who hates tummy time
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Why does my baby hate tummy time so much?

A lot of babies dislike tummy time because it’s a new and unnatural position for them. Their back, neck, and arm muscles are weak, making it awkward and a little uncomfortable.

This is the exact reason why tummy time is so important for a baby’s gross motor development. In order for baby to support his or her own head, sit up, or crawl, these muscles will need to gradually strengthen.

a brand new baby struggling with tummy time
Here’s our first in his first week home! Life on the outside is tough!

The good news is if this is the reason your baby hates tummy time, they’ll probably start to like it more as they get stronger and more mobile.

Should I let my baby cry during tummy time?

It’s okay to let your baby fuss or even cry a bit during tummy time. Even as baby fusses, he or she will still be working and strengthening those large muscle groups. As those muscles get stronger, baby will start to tolerate –and maybe even enjoy –tummy time.

But you shouldn’t let them cry excessively. It’s not productive (a baby screaming with their head face-down isn’t really improving their gross motor skills) and it’s stressful (for you and for baby).

Plus, it’s unnecessary.

There are other ways to get baby to work their muscles and get tummy time in without excessive crying (see the tummy time tips in the next section).

For me personally, I would usually give it 2-3 minutes. At that point, if baby was still unhappy and none of my tricks were working, I’d pick him up and try again another time.

How do I get my baby to like tummy time?

Now you’re on the right track!

Tummy time doesn’t have to be a miserable experience, for you or for baby. There are several ways to make tummy time better, and eventually, even enjoyable, for your baby.

a baby enjoying tummy time
Tummy time can get better!

   

1. Break it up

This was the most crucial tummy time tip for my kids. My pediatrician recommended our infants (when they were 1-3 months old) get 20 minutes per day.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting tummy time in short intervals the first day home from the hospital. The goal, per the AAP, is to work up to a total of one hour per day as your baby ages. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends thirty minutes.

Regardless of the number you settle on, that’s a lot of time when your baby hates tummy time. Time moves incredibly slowly when your baby is unhappy.

In this case, the easiest solution is to break up those 20-30 minutes throughout the day. Doing tummy time for only five minutes at a time is a much more reasonable goal if your baby hates tummy time. By the time your baby starts to really work up a fuss, the time is almost over.

(For my baby who hated tummy time the most? It wasn’t unusual for us to go weeks of only doing 2-3 minutes at a time. You gotta do what you gotta do.)

2. Choose your timing wisely

Try tummy time during the periods of the day when your baby tends to be happiest. This comes down to knowing your baby and his or her daily routines.

Some times of day are just not good for some babies. All my babies experienced a “witching hour” in which they lost their ever-loving minds. For three of them, that time period was roughly 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm.

(For my hardest, fussiest baby, his witching hour was basically all the time…but that’s a whole ‘nother story entirely.)

Many babies are happiest in mid-morning and/or after they’ve recently been fed. Aim for those times of day to squeeze in some of your tummy time spurts.

*You probably don’t want to do it immediately after feeding though, because that ups the chances of baby spitting up. Your baby is more likely to hate tummy time if they spit up and are more-or-less stuck facedown in their puddle, since they can’t move much.

3. Music, Lights, and Mirrors

Companies market a lot of silly gadgets to new parents. Many of them are unnecessary, but some are pretty clutch.

Our babies loved their Baby Einstein activity mat. It had a little music and lights player that, at times, really helped capture our babies’ attention during tummy time.

The little flashing, musical gadget absolutely extended some of our tummy time sessions, without a doubt. If you haven’t tried one, I highly recommend it.

(If one didn’t come with your activity mat, or you just use a blanket instead of an activity mat, there’s still plenty of great, reasonable options —like this one)

Mirrors are also great. Babies love faces – other people’s and their own! Many of these same activity mats include a mirror (usually mounted on the top with Velcro).

For babies just starting out with tummy time, detach the mirror from the top and attach it somewhere on the lower sides. When baby turns their head to the side, even if baby’s just mostly lying face-down, they’ll catch a glimpse of themselves. For many, that can make tummy time more tolerable.

If your baby’s been doing tummy time for a while and has really started strengthening their neck, shoulder, and back muscles, place the mirror under their face. When baby lifts their head up and looks down, they’ll be able to stare at their own reflection below them.

Of course, we’re talking gadgets here—not actual miracle-workers. There were still plenty of times that all the mirrors, lights, and music did absolutely nothing to calm our angry little tummy-timer.

But sometimes they definitely helped.

4. Lie down with your baby

Babies love their parents (duh). One of the things many babies find distressing about tummy time is the separation. This is especially true if you’re raising a Stage Five Clinger.

Lying down on the ground next to your baby while they do their tummy time can help. They can still see, smell, and feel close to you while getting in their exercises.

You can also talk or sing to them and gently rub their back. Basically, anything your baby finds soothing, try it.

5. Recruit big siblings to help

Babies tend to be fascinated by their big siblings, especially as they get a little older and more aware of their surroundings.

Truthfully, the first month or two is probably a wash. Babies want Mom. Maybe Dad. Brothers and sisters just don’t register super high on the radar.

But somewhere around months two or three, babies really start to take notice of their big brothers and sisters. Use this to your advantage.

By the time I had two (and then three and four) kids, I didn’t have a lot of time to lie on the floor with my baby who hated tummy time. But guess who had all the time in the world? My other kids.

a big brother helping his baby brother do tummy time

And they were thrilled to do it! For big siblings on the younger side, they just like to feel big and included. In fact, including them is one of the best ways to prepare a toddler or young child for a new sibling.

For big siblings who are a little older (ages 4-5+), they genuinely want to help and tend to almost see themselves as another parent.

(When the baby is a walking, talking toddler, that will probably get old. But in the baby stage? Take all the help you can get!)

*Note: Remember, you shouldn’t leave siblings alone with the baby, unless they’re significantly older. Even a well-behaved four- or five-year-old can be an accidental (or even deliberate) danger to a baby.

6. Use a prop pillow

Propping a small pillow under the baby can also help make tummy time better for your baby. Our Baby Einstein Activity mat came with a little orca whale pillow, which was perfectly sized for this.

In the newborn stage, you shouldn’t do this. But between two and three months, I found it to be really helpful with my tummy-time-haters. They even make little prop pillows with toys attached like this one, which seem kind of perfect.

Prop the small pillow (or dish towel –something small like that) under baby’s chest area. This gives baby just enough elevation to help them keep their head off the floor more easily.

Again, super important: you can never leave your baby alone like this. The pillow can move, the baby can slip, etc. and it could be come a suffocation hazard. But with you supervising, it’s perfectly safe.

7. Get “Tummy Time” In Other Ways

This was probably the most significant tummy time tip I used –especially with my fourth baby, who hated almost everything for about a year.

The point of tummy time is to help strengthen those large muscles in baby’s core and upper body. There are other ways to do that besides your typical tummy time on the floor.

Hold baby on their tummy the way you would a football, with your forearm supporting their upper body and their legs and arms dangling. This will encourage baby to lift and turn his head, while still being held. All my babies loved being held like this.

dad holding baby for fake tummy time exercises
Also: check out Dad’s shirt on this one. We didn’t plan it, but it made the picture pretty hilarious..

You can also wear your baby. The newborn-type holds (kangaroo holds, etc. with the head tucked in and supported) don’t really help. But as baby gets older and can move into less supportive holds, they can practice supporting and turning their heads while being held (and you can keep your hands free!)

You can also sit baby up and support his or her neck/upper body minimally. This is another way to let them practice those gross motor skills without having to do actual tummy time.

baby sitting upright with mom's help
Me, holding Mr. Crankypants upright instead of “tummy time”

But of course, in the end, the only real way to strengthen their arms and shoulders is to give them tummy time and let them practice pushing up. So don’t neglect tummy time altogether.

Don’t stress too much over getting in the right amount of tummy time.

Gross motor development is important, but so is your sanity.

New parenthood is filled with stress, much of which can’t be avoided. There’s not a whole lot you can do to prevent night waking, cluster feeding, or projectile spit-up.

Don’t add additional stress to your life over minor things like getting exactly 20 minutes of tummy time. Try some of these tummy time tips, do the best you can, and just hang on.

Eventually, your baby will be able to spend time on their tummy without a full-scale meltdown.

I promise.

How did your babies feel about tummy time? Share your experience(s) in the comments!

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like: 

What Can You Do All Day With Your One-Month-Old Baby? 15 Fun & Easy Ideas!

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