How to set up a tummy time water mat

The idea of tummy time is a strange one. As a new parent you wonder what all the fuss is about – aren’t you just putting your baby down on their front?

And like all things your baby learns – sleep training, weaning, self-soothing etc – they all quickly sound like the regimented training program of a robot if you’re not careful.

Talking about tummy time as some sort of regime definitely makes it sound like a bigger deal than it has to be. And like all of these learnings, they quickly can become another link of guilt on the already long and weighty chain of anxiety we carry round with us as parents.

how to use a water tummy time play mat to improve your baby's physical development

We (Shreya and I) learned the hard way, that tummy time does. It wasn’t that we were failing to make time because we were bad parents. We didn’t like seeing our baby upset after 5 seconds spent on their tummy and it was just not something we were particularly conscious of all the time.

Read more about why we ended up creating a tummy time water mat after our 1st child.

We designed our own inflatable tummy time water mat – Heads Up - to make light work of building our kids core strength to equip them to reach, roll, sit and crawl.

Here's a short guide to why tummy time matters and how a tummy time mat could help your baby:

Part 1: The importance of tummy time

  1. What is the point of tummy time?
  2. When do you start tummy time?
  3. How long does your baby need to do tummy time for?

Already know why tummy time matters? Read on to find out how to set up a tummy time water mat and keep it clean.

Part 2: How to use and set up a tummy time water play mat

  1. How a water play mat helps improve tummy time for babies
  2. How to fill and inflate the Heads Up tummy time mat
  3. How to keep your tummy time water mat clean
  4. Our recommendations for the best tummy time mat for babies

Part 1: The importance of tummy time

1. What is the point of tummy time?

Tummy time became a ‘thing’ in the early 1990s when public health advice changed on how you should put your baby down to sleep. The ‘Back to Sleep’ campaign launched in December 1991 was the result of years of pain-staking investigation into the mystery behind cot death rates. Cot death rates, what we now call SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), fell significantly as a result of the change in healthcare advice and has saved 1000s of babies in the decades since then. 

Read more about why tummy time matters and the importance of putting your baby on their back to sleep.

Of course, since babies spend a lot of time sleeping, if you put your baby down on their back to sleep, they’ll spend a lot of time on their back. The result is that babies can be slower to develop the necessary strength to move and lift their heads because they will spend less time (if any time at all) on their front. With all the emphasis on putting babies down to sleep on their back, a new emphasis on tummy time was needed to encourage physical development.

Here's what experts say about why tummy time matters for your baby.

Like a mini-exercise session that builds up over days, weeks and months, starting tummy time from newborn and building it up over the following months will ensure your baby gets the best of both worlds – safe when sleeping, and physically able to develop at the right milestones. 

2. When do you start tummy time?

Tummy time should start from day 1 for your newborn.

Read more about when tummy time should start here.

The experts recommend this as the best course of action to help your baby build up to the 30 mins of daily tummy time they should be doing by the time they reach 3 months.

That means at 1 month, your baby should be doing 10 minutes of tummy time a day. At 2 months your baby should be doing 20 minutes of tummy time each day. That sounds a lot (especially when you’ve experienced them cry after the first 10 seconds of tummy time), but that 10 or 20 minutes doesn’t have to be done consecutively. You can start with very small increments.

For a complete guide to what your baby should be doing on their tummy at every age, read more here.

3. How long does your baby need to do tummy time for?

What can became difficult as you try and get your baby spending more time on their tummy, is the need to make a conscious effort throughout the day to get your baby on their tummy. This can be difficult without a designated routine or reminders that will help. That’s why tummy time mats can be so helpful. They are a visual cue to put your baby down on their front for a short time as often as possible throughout the day when they are awake.

As the chart below shows, when you’re baby reaches 3 months it can also get tricky to be putting your baby down often enough with them engaged long enough (for a few minutes at a time) to get them building up a decent amount of tummy time each day.

 tummy time milestones by month

Part 2: How to set up a tummy time water mat

1. How a water play mat helps improve tummy time for babies

What can be useful for babies is something like a tummy time water play mat that engages your baby’s senses to keep them distracted from some of the discomfort, unfamiliarity of them being on their tummy.

One of the biggest challenges is finding a way to both prop your baby up, cushioning them in order to prevent accidents and also creating interesting visual and touch stimulation that keeps them interested in what’s going on in front of them. The longer they are distracted by or engaged in colours, movement and the feel of different objects within reach, the more content they’ll be on their tummy so you can leave them for longer in this position.

Tummy time is about more than just putting your baby down on their front. Read more about what to check when your doing tummy time with your baby.


That’s the secret behind an inflatable water tummy time mat. It combines cushioning with great visual and touch stimulation.

Our own Heads Up mat uses the black and white contrasting colours, with bright floating shapes in the water to engage your baby with contrast and movement while also propping them up and keep them well cushioned when their necks get more tired and their head drops a little.

A complete guide to our Heads Up tummy time water play mat.

2. How to set up an inflatable water tummy time mat 

There’s enough baby clutter already so we designed the Heads Up. Heads Up tummy time mat for easy set up and take down.

1. Inflate the outer ring.

2. Fill it with water at your tap.

3. Inflate the inner ring with additional air (it adds air to the water section) for extra support.

And then you're done. Watch our video to see how simple it really can be to set up our tummy time water play mat.

3. How to keep your tummy time water mat clean

One big concern for any baby product is how to keep it clean and germ free – especially when you're baby is spending time face down on it and it’s likely to end up in their mouth!

The first thing to check is that you're favourite tummy time toys are really safe for babies? Check that any plastic is paraben and BPA-free, especially if it’s going to be going in their mouth.

Here's a helpful guide to what to look out for when choosing your baby's toys.

The second thing to check is how to clean your tummy time toys. Our own Heads Up water tummy time mat has a BPA-free, Paraben-free PVC outer shell which means it stays leak free, but also is easily wiped clean with an anti-bacterial spray – very handy if your baby has reflux and you’re trying to navigate tummy time with that in mind.

Third, you’ll want to be clear on how best to keep the inside of your water tummy time mat clean. Here’s our three step guide to cleaning your tummy time mat on the inside.

  1. Change the water regularly Fresh water will prevent the build-up of any bacteria from the water going stagnant in the mat
  2. Add a little white vinegar to the water when you fill up the mat Vinegar is an acetic acid that can help slow the growth of bacteria (bacteria prefer to grow in PH neutral environments – basically as close to water as possible). But crucially vinegar is great at breaking down and dissolving any mineral deposits, grease or grime. That makes it great in the tummy time mat where stagnant water might slowly build up marks on the inside of the mat.
  3. Use a vase brush to clean your mat of any stubborn marks inside. Use a long handled, vase brush to poke inside your tummy time mat and scrub any marks or stains that have built up inside. This is easy to do with a vase brush that’s designed to scrub narrow spaces. Push the brush through the hole where you fill the mat with water and scrub away. Then rinse out with water before refilling for final use.

4. The best tummy time mat for babies

Read our complete list of recommendations for the 7 best tummy time play mats that will help your baby learn to reach, roll and crawl at the right milestones.

We of course love our own Heads Up water play mat because it’s designed to combine black and white contrasts with sensory engagement to get your baby learning to follow clear visual cues while also strengthening their neck and core muscles.

Heads Up is a 4 in 1 sensory play mat that engages your baby for longer to help them have fun doing tummy time for longer

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How to make tummy time more fun

Read how the Heads Up play mat we designed to make tummy time easier for our own babies could transform tummy time struggles in to sensory play joy!