Tummy Time vs Sitting Up for Babies Explained by Experts

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If you’re a new parent, you may have heard or read that tummy time is important for development in newborns.

Tummy time helps strengthen all those muscles around the neck and shoulders to get ready for other important milestones like rolling over. 

Because it’s such an important thing to do, you would think all newborns love tummy time. Unfortunately, some infants hate it!

This leaves parents in a difficult position. Nobody wants to make their baby cry, especially when they are so little!

Maybe you’re desperate to make tummy time easier and asking yourself: can I replace tummy time with putting my baby in a chair, Bumbo, jumper, or bouncer?

What’s the difference between tummy time vs sitting up?

Tummy time vs sitting up work different muscles in babies and can not be substituted for one another.

There’s no replacement for the muscle-building that happens during tummy time. It’s the best way to get your newborn on track for sitting up all on his own, along with all the other milestones that happen after that.

Substituting tummy time for time in a chair will not strengthen the right muscles needed for sitting up, and could cause problems later.

To understand better, we’re going to look at what some pediatricians and parenting experts say about tummy time. We’ll also look at ways you can make tummy time more bearable for everyone involved if it is an issue for your baby.

The Importance of Tummy Time Explained

So, what even is tummy time?

The name “tummy time” is used to describe the activity of intentionally placing a newborn in a laying-down position on their stomach.

Since newborns cannot move much on their own yet, they need a mom or dad to put them in this position. 

It seems counter-intuitive to do this because of the advice to not let newborns sleep on their stomachs due to SIDS risk.

The difference here is that tummy time is done while the newborn is awake and alert, and with you supervising.

Here’s why tummy time is such a big deal, according to Brigida Aversa, COO of Tiny Hoppers in Canada:

“Tummy time is essential for a baby’s development; some of the main reasons include improving motor skills, strengthens neck/shoulder muscles, and it helps to prevent flat spots on the head.”

The tummy time muscle-building exercise is the first step to all baby milestones.

Babies strength-train from the head to the toes. They have to work on their neck muscles first, then shoulders, arms, and back to get up on their hands while laying down on their stomachs, and so on.

A flat-backed head is also a very real consequence of not moving your baby around enough, too.

Babies’ heads are still quite malleable while they develop in the early stages.

When your baby doesn’t learn to move his head around on his own, he stays in one position, which could cause a flat or misshapen appearance to his head that lasts for his life.

Thankfully, it doesn’t take much to fulfill the requirements of tummy time to start seeing benefits.

Your baby only needs to do tummy time for 3 minutes at minimum, 2 times a day.

Once your baby gets more used to it or comfortable with it, you can increase the time day by day until they are at 15 minutes of total tummy time a day.

What to do if your baby hates tummy time

People may tell you that every baby is different, and it’s true.

Even one parent can have one baby who loves tummy time and one baby who hates it!

These babies who dislike tummy time are known to cry and scream the minute you put them on their stomachs.

So, what are you supposed to do if they won’t cooperate?

Luckily, there are things you can try if your baby hates tummy time. Here are some ideas:

  • Get down on their level. There’s no question that a baby’s favorite thing to look at is your face. When you put your baby on their tummy, get down on the floor with them, or put them on their changing table so you can get on your knees instead. Talk to your baby and play with her during this time. This might distract your baby from the fact that they are doing something they normally don’t like.
  • Distract them with toys or a mirror. It’s the same idea as getting your face in their face, but using toys instead. Babies are fascinated with mirrors, so you could try that too.
  • Put them on your shoulder. One way to practice neck movements is to have your baby draped over your shoulder. This allows your baby the comfort of being close to you while laying on you. It’s not a substitute for tummy time but just one way to get them used to the action.
  • Put them on your chest. “Having a baby lay tummy down on your chest while you lay down or sit back at an incline counts as tummy time” says Dr. Tiffany Lee, a pediatrician with ParentingPod.com. This is another way to get your baby looking up at you during tummy time.
  • Put them on your lap. While you are sitting up, you can place your baby on your lap so they face out, or on your lap perpendicular to your legs. This helps your baby explore the world around them during tummy time.
  • Try a rolled-up towel or blanket. Place a rolled-up towel or blanket on the floor with your baby on the side or under their armpits. 
  • Try a nursing pillow. 

Some of these tips and methods might help make tummy time more fun for everyone — but the reality is that your baby may never learn to love it.

Unfortunately, it’s a necessary part of your daily routine with baby and you’ve got to gut through it!

(What are some other things that babies hate? Read here!)

Can sitting up in a chair replace tummy time?

Sitting your baby up in a Bumbo, bouncer, or another sort of baby chair is not a replacement for tummy time.

Your baby needs to master the neck muscles before they sit up in a chair like this. 

When a newborn is placed in a chair before they have the neck muscles to hold their head up, Dr. Lee says this can cause positional asphyxia, which is “a lack of oxygen in the blood due to the newborn’s head not being strong enough yet to hold up independently.” 

If you’re looking for a specific age when it’s okay for your baby to sit in a baby chair, there simply isn’t one.

One good rule of thumb: your baby is ready for a baby seat when they can sit on their own on the floor, or are very close to it.

When they can sit in a Bumbo, bouncer, or jumper, you want to always keep an eye on them. Babies are unpredictable sometimes!

Even if your baby is strong enough to sit up in a chair, it’s still important for them to get practice on their tummy for crawling and rolling over.

Wrapping Up

Before you know it, your baby will be grown up and ready to go to school, and the bygone days of tummy time will seem like a blip in history.

Even if your baby protests tummy time, know that it’s just a phase, and you both will get through it soon enough.

Try some of the techniques above — it may make things easier on both of you. And remember that, even though it may be tempting, using a Bumbo or other baby seat doesn’t replace the crucial muscle-building of tummy time.

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Hope this helps!