I guess it’s because I’m a therapist, but moms frequently ask me, “Is tummy time really that important?” This is an important question. Tummy time plays a critical role in infant development. It provides a base for motor skills such as head control, rolling over, and pulling up.
Tummy time is especially important now that that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all babies sleep on their backs. Prior to 1992, most babies in the US slept on their stomachs. Then scientific research revealed that infants were approximately 12 times more likely to be found on their stomachs than on their backs when they had died of SIDS. In 1992 the AAP formally recommended that all infants be placed to sleep on their backs or sides to reduce the risk of SIDS. Later, the side position was eliminated because infants could roll from their sides to their stomachs during sleep. Since then, 50% fewer infants have died from SIDS. Putting babies to sleep on their backs turned out to be a simple and effective way to save the lives of infants.
Eventually, pediatricians and therapists noticed a rise in infants diagnosed with flat spots on the head. They also noticed an increase in the number of infants with mild delays in gross motor skills, such as rolling over and pulling up. Evidently, many parents were not positioning their infants on the tummy for play out of a fear of SIDS. This limited tummy time was having negative consequences. In 1996, the AAP formally recommended that parents provide babies with supervised playtime on the stomach to promote growth and development and prevent flat spots from forming on the head.
My research has revealed that many infants resist being placed on the tummy. This is probably because they aren’t familiar with tummy time. They also haven’t gained the head control and upper body strength that is necessary to maintain the position comfortably. But rest assured, with time and a few basic and very beneficial techniques, any infant can learn to tolerate tummy time. There are ways to introduce tummy time and increase tolerance without making a parents’ and baby’s life miserable. In fact, it can be the total opposite of miserable. Tummy time provides an opportunity to spend one on one time with baby and create a special bond that can last a lifetime!
In the beginning, set up a regular schedule for tummy time. Carry it out after naps or after diaper changes. A general guideline should be that half of the time that baby spends for play should be on the tummy. Remember, it is important to vary your baby’s position every 15 to 20 minutes during playtime. Be aware that tummy time is any combination of positions in which your infant is NOT on the back and encourages baby to use the back, shoulder and neck muscles. This includes time spent in your arms and on your lap. Most importantly, don’t look upon tummy time as a chore. Keep in mind that this special time is an important part of baby’s daily routine, which provides an opportunity to bond and develop a close relationship with your infant. For more information on tummy time and some specific tips and suggestions on how to increase infant tolerance to the position, visit my blog @ http://drzachryspedsottips.blogspot.com/.
Also, for more information about tummy time as well as some wonderful brochures and handouts, visit http://www.pathwaysawareness.org/.