Tummy time is an important developmental activity for infants. This post will discuss the gradual emergence of tummy time and its essential role in infant development.
Just a generation or two ago, tummy time was not something discussed in pediatric offices. Tummy time is a more recent concept that coincides with the advent of the “Back to Sleep” campaign in 1994. “Back to Sleep” refers to the recommendation to always put your infant to sleep on their back. This sleeping position is one of the few scientifically proven ways to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The other ways to decrease the risk of SIDS include not smoking and not putting soft items in the sleeping environment (e.g., bumpers, pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, sleep positioners).
Since infants spend much of their time sleeping, that means they spend a significant amount of time lying on their backs. So when infants are awake (and not feeding) they should spend as much time as possible on their tummies. During tummy time, infants strengthen their neck and back muscles, which ultimately allows them to develop good head control and the ability to roll over.
You can begin tummy time in the newborn period. Newborns are able to lift their heads up while on their tummies, although they will need your help to keep their head steady. While in the newborn period, most parents enjoy reclining and having their baby do tummy time while on the parent’s chest.
As your baby grows older and is no longer a newborn, it is essential to maximize tummy time. We recommend including tummy time in each “wake” part of the baby’s sleep-wake. Putting infant toys and/or a non-breakable mirror in front of your baby will help encourage your baby to play longer on their tummy. Of course, your infant mostly wants to play with you, so lying on the floor while they play is also a good idea. Once your baby shows signs of losing interest in tummy time, you may want to pick them up or roll them onto the back or side. If it’s not yet time for a nap or feeding, keep going back to tummy time as much as possible.
Another important aspect of tummy time is that it decreases the amount of time your baby spends on their back, thereby decreasing the risk of positional plagiocephaly (i.e., “flat head”). Infants have relatively soft skull bones, so if an infant spends too much time lying on their back, they may develop a flat area on their head (we will have another article on positional plagiocephaly later this year).
Maximizing tummy time while awake will help your baby reach important developmental milestones on time (including good head control and rolling over) and minimize the chances of having a misshapen head.
In short, back to sleep and tummy to play!