Tummy time is influential with helping your child develop the muscles they need for physical development in their early years. The American Academy of Pediatrics endorses tummy time, and has stated that it is important for infants to spend time on their tummy in short increments throughout the day since they spend so much time on their backs.
Infants need time on their tummy while they are awake to strengthen their head, neck and upper body muscles. Tummy time helps to build the strength and coordination that infants need to roll over, crawl, and reach for things. Tummy time is beneficial for all infants, including newborns. Although the length of time for tummy time for newborns is much shorter than for babies that are 3-6 months of age.
The benefits of tummy time continue beyond strengthening muscles. Tummy time also helps to reduce the risk of positional plagiocephaly, which is also known as flattened head. An infant’s skull is made up of several separate bones that eventually fuse together, but in infancy they allow for the child’s brain to grow. If an infant is spending a lot of time lying on their back, they are susceptible to having their head be molded into a flat shape. Infants that have a flat spot on their heads sometimes have to put more work into moving their head in certain directions, depending on where the flattening is, which causes them to use their muscles incorrectly and it can hinder their development and affect them their entire life. Cassandra Borlaug, MS, OTR/L from PTP notes that “Not only is tummy time important for a child's motor development, but also sensory and cognitive development. Tummy time promotes a better understanding of a child's position in space and body awareness, exposure to a variety of textures, movement of the head and body, and ability to see and look around.”
Sharon Drewlo, BS, OTR/L from PTP highlights that there are reasons other than gaining motor skills that it is important to engage in tummy time. “Your baby is also getting exposed to tactile stimulation to the front side of her body when doing tummy time. Instead of looking up at the ceiling when lying on her back, your baby can work on developing near point vision when on her tummy and gain a different visual reference to the world around her.”
It is easy to incorporate tummy time into your everyday routine, especially if you start when your infant is a newborn. For newborns start with placing them on their tummy in your lap for a minute or two, or place them on your stomach or chest while you are awake and in a reclined position on a chair, bed, or the floor.
As they get to be older and more active, babies can be placed on their tummy on a blanket on the floor starting with short intervals of 2-3 minutes at a time and work up to at least 20 minutes of tummy time per day. Be sure to pay attention that your baby is not getting tired or resting their face while engaging in tummy time. You can also encourage your baby to move and interact with you by holding toys or by placing a mirror in front of them to get their attention, which will encourage them to lift their head and reach for things.
If you are worried that your baby is not properly developing and reaching their developmental milestones, give our sister company Early Intervention Partners a call to set up a free screening.
For more information on establishing tummy time, check out the following resources.