The early days and months with baby are HARD. You’re tired and your bub will probably sleep a lot but almost definitely not at night. The midwives and healthcare visitors will encourage you to do ‘tummy time’ but that’s sometimes easier said than done.
If you’re in the midst’s of sleep deprivation and your baby protests every time they are placed on their tummy, then the motivation to keep trying can disappear pretty quickly. In the very early days get down with baby (if you can) and talk to them – reassure them that you are still there. You can even have baby face to face with you whilst they rest on your chest – you can do this from a seated position.
Let’s talk about the benefits of tummy time first
Tummy time helps babies to strengthen their head and neck although initially, they won’t be able to lift their head at all. That comes with time. So if you’re reading this and your baby is very new, try very short (under a minute) intervals of tummy time a few times a day.
5 Benefits of Regular Tummy Time
Develops muscles in the head and neck: Regular tummy time sessions help baby to build strength in their head and neck muscles. Start off with very small sessions of 1-2 minutes, when baby is very young and eventually build up to longer periods.
Promotes Gross Motor Skills: Tummy time acts as a mini workout session for baby. Initially they are trying to use the muscles in their arms, shoulders and torso to push upwards. Over time, when they can push up comfortably, they will start to reach and grasp for objects.
Can help to prevent ‘flat head’ syndrome: It is advised that baby should only be placed on their backs for sleeping in order to help prevent SIDS but tummy time (when baby is awake and alert), can help alleviate some of the pressure placed on the back of the head.
Builds muscles for movement: Tummy time really helps set baby up for future movement. It is a precursor to rolling, crawling, sitting and even walking. As baby gets stronger, you will notice them trying different movements during sessions. First they might reach out for an object that is slightly out of grasp. Over time, baby will start to push up onto their feet, before they start crawling. This type of play gives the opportunity to build up strength and try different actions.
Gives Baby a different perspective: When baby is awake and alert, tummy time gives them the opportunity to see the world from a different perspective – otherwise they are always gazing up at the ceiling! Using books and toys during the sessions are a great way to help entertain baby.
15 Activities to Try
All of the activities featured here are easy to set up – most should take you less than 5 minutes to put together and many use everyday items from around the house. I’m really passionate about promoting easy, playful activities during the early years. You absolutely don’t need to go crazy with all of the expensive toys and all of the elaborate DIYs you’ve seen on Instagram!
All of these activities will work well if your baby is settled. Try to set a regular tummy time session at a point in the day when you feel alert and baby is contented.
A note on age recommendations
The age recommendations are suggestions based on developmental guidelines and my own experiences. My advice is to watch out for signs of the next developmental stage. For example, when Elliott had sufficient head and neck strength, I introduced the ball and pompom roll. When he is started to reach and grab objects, I introduced the sensory board.
If you are at all concerned about your baby’s development or your baby is distressed when placed on his tummy, it’s best to raise your concerns with a GP or health visitor.
Safety First! Never leave your baby unattended while they play. Check homemade play items every time you use them and take into consideration your babies developmental stage – there is no point rushing onto activities before they are ready.
1. Read a Book!
Sounds obvious, right? But it’s a good place to start. Ideally books should be a part of your routine with baby from birth so it’s a good idea to combine reading with tummy time.
Books with high contrast images work really well in the first few months – babies don’t tend to develop good colour vision until around the age of 5 months.
Try: pointing out the pictures and making the sounds – be expressive and make it fun! This will help language development in the future.
2. Book / Toy Pivot Circle
At around 4 months of age, baby will show signs of starting to move. To encourage this movement, place between 4 to 6 books or toys in a circle – this will encourage baby to pivot around.
When they reach each book read it to them or point out the toys and move them. You can even make up silly little songs for each toy: I remember doing a little song about a lion that always got a few giggles!
3. Mirror Mirror
Babies just LOVE looking at faces – you’ve probably noticed that your bub is most engaged when looking at you!
Initially, babies can’t actually recognise their own faces in the mirror – that comes a little later on down the line. Using a mirror for bub to gaze into will help focus and also let them explore just what the face can do.
Here’s a few variations:
Under 3 months – attach a Perspex (unbreakable) mirror low on a wall so baby can look at his reflection whilst lying on his back.
3-6 months – as shown in photo above, place an unbreakable mirror on the floor for a tummy time activity. Baby will need good head and neck control for this one!
4. DIY roller
Sensory bottles are a real staple in the early years. The possibilities are endless and you can find some more ideas here.
You will need:
- Cylindrical bottle (we like Voss)
- Glue gun and refills
Having a baby doesn’t need to mean buying loads of expensive toys. After all, they do outgrow items rather quickly! This homemade pompom roll allows baby to explore cause and effect without the price tag. To recreate similar at home, put pompoms (or other colourful items) into a clear plastic bottle and seal the lid shut.
This activity is suitable from around 3-4 months, or when your baby has good head and neck control.
5. Nature in a Bottle
Getting outside for plenty of fresh air is so beneficial for both you and baby. Next time you go out, try collecting some nature treasures along the way. Placing them in a sensory bottle will allow baby to explore without you having to worry about potential taste-testing!
In this case, don’t glue the bottle – the flowers will only be good for one session, but they do look rather pretty! You can find out more by watching this video.
6. Ball Push
A set of sensory balls can be a really great purchase for young babies. You can use them in tummy time from around 4-5 months to help encourage baby to stretch out and reach for object. Simply place the balls just out of reach to give your baby a little challenge. As they get more adventurous, move the balls further away.
7. Toy Grasp
This toy grasp is another variation on the ball activity featured above. Again, place the toy slightly out of reach to encourage your baby to stretch and reach for it.
In terms of toys, here’s some favourites:
- Grimm’s rainbow bead grasper (1st photo above)
- O-ball (middle photo)
- Silicone baby teethers
- Manhattan Skwish
- Brio bell rattle
These toys are suitable from between 3-6 months, but please check manufacturers recommendations before purchasing.
8. Scarf Pull
Whilst we do a lot of DIY projects on this feed, we also have a love for versatile, open-ended toys. The o-ball paired with a few play silks always tops the list, gift wise. When E was teeny, we used this activity as part of tummy time. He loved pulling at the silks (great for fine motor skills) and pushing the ball. We also take these items on holidays with us. They are perfect for long car journeys!
9. Sensory Board
This simple DIY took less than 10 minutes to make. All you need is:
- 2 pieces of square cardboard
- A variety of materials cut into squares
- A glue gun / strong glue
You can find out how to make your own by watching this IGTV video.
10. Bubble Wrap Runway
This activity works really well for tummy time and as an activity for emerging crawlers. Babies just love the texture of the bubble wrap, especially when the bubbles pop and move underneath them!
Tip: Tape the bubble wrap down the floor with duct tape to prevent the wrap from being pulled too much.
This needs to be done under very close supervision to avoid the risk of suffocation. suitable from 4-5 months
11. Sensory Pivot Board
The sensory board is extremely similar to the cardboard versions, but on a larger scale. Here Elliott was testing this out for a group of babies we were having over for the morning so he was a little too big for the tray – he really loved watching himself in the mirror!
You don’t need the tuff spot tray that is featured in the photo above, you can tape materials directly to the floor if you wish. I’d recommend testing it out first so that you don’t ruin your floors!
We tend to use the Duck brand version of duct tape as it is more durable than other varieties.
Materials to try:
- Pompoms in a sandwich bag
- Bubble Wrap
- A small acrylic mirror
- Sensory bags – you can read more about sensory bags below
Peepo boards are a great way to use up those baby wipe lids – so get saving now. The one featured in the photo above was themed around the Usborne book ‘That’s not my puppy…’ but you can really use any materials that you have to hand, providing that you have glued them down securely.
You can find out how to make your own peepo board here.
13. Baby’s First Painting
You will need:
- Sandwich bags
- Non-toxic paints – washable paints in primary colours are a great option.
- Masking tape
Art isn’t the easiest activity to try with babies. Because of their tendency to mouth absolutely everything, paints aren’t a very safe option.
For this activity, I placed very small blobs of non-toxic washable paints onto a piece of card, then placed it into a sandwich bag. For extra safety, use duct tape to secure the edges – curious babies have the tendency to be pretty ‘grabby!’
Suitable from 5 months – this also works as a highchair activity for older children.
14. Sensory Squish Bag
Sensory bags are just perfect for babies and toddlers who still tend to put everything in their mouths, so you can reuse these ideas right into toddlerhood too!
Follow a similar method to the painting bags by taping down the contents of the bags with painters tape. As you can see from the photo above, this was done around Halloween with some pumpkin seeds. It’s best to double bag the contents to avoid leakage, especially if you decide to use small items.
Not sure what to put into a sensory bag? Here are some ideas:
- Hair gel with beads/pompoms
- Jelly/ Jello
- Coloured water
- Shaving foam
- Nature treasures
15. If in doubt, get outside!
The easiest way to combine sensory play with tummy time is to take it outside! Baby E was 5 months here and almost on the move (you can just about see him push up on his toes).
With younger babies, put a blanket down so that they don’t get cold / wet – as it happens, this was a beautiful Spring day in Perth, Australia.
Just as a heads up, babies can sometimes find the feeling of grass quite strange. It’s pretty hilarious watching their very first reactions to it!
- Start off with short tummy time sessions of around 1-2 minutes
- Talk to baby when they are on the floor – point out objects of interest and be expressive!
- Use a combination of DIY projects and store bought toys
- Only attempt tummy time when baby is happy and settled