Your newborn baby is a curled-up bundle; in a position we call physiological flexion. It is the shape your baby has been tightly cuddled into by the walls of the uterus. The very first motor milestone of infancy is to uncurl and develop the extensor or back muscles. As you hold your baby to your shoulders and she lifts and bobs her heavy head on a weak and unsteady neck, she works these muscles.

However, there is a better, more effective way to strengthen the back muscles – tummy time. Cape Town-based physiotherapist Kirsten Williams confirms, "tummy time is essential to strengthen the babies' neck and back extension muscles. This extension is needed to keep your little one's head and body upright when in sitting and standing. It also ensures you're your baby does not get a flattened back of their head called plagiocephaly."

You may find that your baby protests when she is put on her tummy because it is hard work to keep a heavy head up. As hard as it is, you do need to persist in encouraging her to spend time on her tummy each day. 

If you are battling to get this right, here are the top 5 Babies R Us tips to encourage tummy time:


  1. Aim for your newborn baby to spend at least 10 minutes a day on her tummy. This time can be divided into 3-minute stretches – one in every awake time in the day. Older babies should spend 30 minutes in total during awake times on their tummies.
  2. Get your baby out of her travel system or car seat whenever you arrive somewhere so she can exercise those muscles on the floor.
  3. Lie in front of your baby facing her. She loves to see your face, so this will encourage her to lift her neck
  4. Place a rolled hand towel under your baby's chest to elevate her a little bit – this will make it easier for her.
  5. If she really protests tummy time, then start with her laying on your chest while you are propped semi-reclined on pillows. She won't have to work as hard if she is not flat on the floor.

For more information on preparing for your baby's development and ideas for tummy time, read the age band chapters in Baby Sense (Faure & Richardson)

Megan Faure (

Meg is an Occupational Therapist with a special interest in babies and toddlers - specifically irritable infants; sleep problems, emotional engagement difficulties and fussy feeding. Meg is the co-author of Baby Sense and the Sense-series books. Her clinical practise is in Cape Town and she consults and speaks internationally too.