Tips to support your baby's development at home

Growing strong

  • Hold your baby in lots of different positions to help their muscles grow equally.
  • Only put your baby on their tummy or side when they are awake or supervised.

Tummy time

Tummy time is when your baby lays on their stomach while they are awake. This helps build strength in their neck and back and helps them learn to hold their head up. Your baby can do tummy time for 30 minutes a day. You can do the 30 minutes all at once or break it up throughout the day. Below are tips for tummy time with your baby:

  • After a feeding, hold your baby upright in tummy time on your chest. This helps with reflux and gives your baby positive sensory input to the front of their body. Sensory input is stimulation related to your senses, such as taste, touch, smell, hearing and seeing. It also gives the opportunity to improve neck strength, head control and head shaping.
  • Use a Boppy® pillow or similar nursing pillow for supported tummy time. Encourage your baby to raise their head and look from right and left. To encourage your baby to put weight on their arms, make sure their arms are positioned to the side and slightly under shoulders. Over time, your will get stronger and they will be able to hold their head up for longer periods of time.
  • Make sure your baby’s arms and legs don’t splay (spread) to the side. Keep their knees under their hips.
  • Give your baby a massage! You can give your baby a massage by stroking firmly and smoothly down their back in one motion.
  • As your baby gets older, place them flat on their tummy on a mat or the floor. If your baby needs extra support to transition from upright to flat tummy time, placed a rolled blanket under their shoulders.

Side lying

Side lying is when your baby is placed on their side with or without support (such as a rolled blanket) against their back. Side lying helps counteract (go against) your baby’s natural tendency to arch and extend their back. Your baby can practice side lying for small periods throughout the day as often as they like.

Below are tips to help your baby with side lying:

  • While side lying, give your baby firm strokes from their head to their bottom to help them flex their body and keep their spine round.
  • Pat your baby’s back for comfort while they receive firm pressure from stroking and a pacifier to suck.
  • Give your baby a massage! After they are comfortable on their side, give me a massage by stroking firmly and smoothly down their arms and legs. This feels good on their body and helps them learn to bend their arms and legs. You can also pretend to “milk” your baby’s arms and legs to give them good sensory input.
  • While on their side, give your baby something fun to hold or explore with their hands together.

Lying on their back

  • Look for kicking in your baby’s legs in a reciprocal pattern (a pattern that moves right, left, right, left) and bringing their shoulders and arms forward toward their face and middle. It is okay if your baby does not do this yet.
  • Keep their arms and legs flexible and moving. Help your baby raise their arms above their head and give themselves a hug. Move their legs in a kicking pattern and stretch their hips in and out. Make this fun by singing to your baby while they stretch and move.
  • When your baby is a little older and can start reaching for objects, play mats with an arched activity gym can help learn them how to coordinate movements, encourage batting and reaching and provide visual stimulation.

Stretches and exercises

Stretches and exercises help your baby’s muscles grow and develop. Below are tips for different stretches and exercises you can do with your baby:

Positions for stretches and exercises

  • Flat on their back while facing you and perpendicularly angled (your baby’s feet toward your body with their head straight in the middle)
  • Upright on a Boppy® pillow or similar nursing pillow while facing you with their body cradled
  • Side lying (flat or on the Boppy® pillow), working on the right and left side separately

How to do stretches and exercises

Go through each part of your baby’s body in the order below. Try to do stretches and exercises at least once a day or more if your baby tolerates it.

  1. Ankles: Gently stretch up and down
  2. Hips/knees: Place index fingers under the knees and gently lift your baby’s legs up and down.
  3. Legs: Pretend your baby is riding a bicycle and move your baby’s legs into and away from their body. Make sure to fully extend their legs with each stretch.
  4. Knees: Bring your baby’s knees together and apart, like a butterfly.
  5. Pelvis: Bring our baby’s hips and knees toward their chest so their bottom rounds off the surface. (This is also helpful for gas relief.)
  6. Shoulders: Keep your baby’s arm rotated inward toward their body so their palm faces their face. Stretch their arm all the way up to their ear. Then, help your baby give themselves a hug by bringing their arms across their body. This helps stretch the shoulders forward.
  7. Hands: Gently massage your baby’s thumbs and fingers to a relaxed, open position.

Sensory skills

Sensory skills help your baby develop their senses, such as touch, taste, smell, hearing and eyesight. Below are tips to help build your baby’s sensory skills:

  • When their eyes are open and your baby is calm, hold them up and give encouragement to look and follow your face or black and white pictures.
  • Talk, sing, or read to your baby when they are awake and ready to interact.
  • Your baby may still easily get over stimulated with a lot of visitors, visits to busy places or just with the overall events that happen throughout the day. If you notice that your baby feels overstimulated, try to create an environment that is less stimulating. You can try dimming the lights, lowering excess noise or holding and rocking your baby.
  • Keep your baby’s feeding environment with low stimulation to help them save energy.

Head shaping

It is common for babies who are born early or who are born smaller to prefer laying on one side more than the other. This can lead to flattening of your baby’s head on one side and tight neck muscles on the opposite side. Below are tips to help keep your baby’s head round and symmetrical (the same on all sides).

  • Continue turning your baby’s head from right and left side, particularly when they are sleeping.
  • Have your baby spend most of their time on the floor. This is the best place for them to learn about their body and the world around them. Limit time spent in swings, car seats, a Rock ‘N Play® or other device.
  • Alternate which arm you hold your baby in and which side of their body is snuggled against you. Learn more head shaping tips here.

Which follow-up services are available for me and my baby?

Rev. 3/2022. Mass General for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital do not endorse any of the brands listed on this handout. This handout is intended to provide health information so that you can be better informed. It is not a substitute for medical advice and should not be used to treat any medical conditions.