Changing Colors: The Blog of Spectrum Pediatrics

May 17, 2017

Why the Push for Tummy Time?

By: Colleen Donley, PT, DPT

Often as physical therapists, we push and push for tummy time. We work with families on how to make tummy time easier. We help parents figure out how to fit tummy time into their schedule, while hitting the recommended amount of tummy time. Lastly, we educate parents and caregivers on the reasons tummy time is essential to development.

Back in the early 1990s, The American Academy of Pediatrics advised parents to adhere to the Back to Sleep program to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Following this start of this suggestion, there was a significant decrease in the incidence of SIDS. However, doctors and therapists have seen a rise in developmental delays, torticollis (twisted, tight neck), and plagiocephaly (flat head syndrome) since babies were spending more time on their backs and less time on their tummies. We now recommend Back to Sleep, Tummy to Play!

Tummy time is essential to integrate primitive reflexes, develop muscle strength throughout the trunk, and begin to experiment with early movement.

Integrate Primitive Reflexes

Initially, a newborn is curled in a ball because of the “primitive flexion” present at birth. Think the “fetal position” or how the newborn was curled up in the womb. Spending time on the tummy helps break up this flexion tone by providing deep input from weight bearing. This input helps relax the muscle tone of this primitive flexion and allows the baby to spread out their limbs and begin to extend through their neck and back muscles. As the flexion muscle tone continues to relax and fade, baby will begin to move their arms and legs separate of one another.

Develop Strength

When lying on their tummy, babies have to use the muscles neck and back to hold their head up or turn their head to look at parents or toys. This is the key to developing head control early on. As the baby gets stronger during tummy time, they will push up their elbows or arms and begin to hold the chest up. This weight bearing thru the arms will help develop proximal stability to hold the shoulder blade on the back. This is necessary for the baby to begin to bear weight thru one arm at a time to crawl.

Explore with Movement

As the baby gets stronger on their tummy and those muscles begin to relax, they will begin to move their arms and legs. They will continue to experiment with his movement and learn how to roll off their tummy to their back or to move towards a toy. The movement and exploration continues as they start to push up on straight arms and reach for toys. You might see they begin to kick or push their feet. As they learn to combine this reach and kick movements, they will begin to move forward in a belly crawling motion!

Tummy time should start as soon as you come home from the hospital with baby. Start off with small bursts, such as 1-2 minutes, throughout the day. Some parents find it easy to remember to fit in tummy time by making it a part of the routine after each diaper change. Gradually work up to a 60-90 minutes spread out over several increments by the time baby is 3 months old. By the time baby is 4 months old, they should enjoy tummy time since they now have full head control and push up on their elbows to play with toys. Around this time, you might see that baby sees tummy time as play time and nor work time.

Check out some of our other resources about tummy time here:

Making it Easier

Using a Boppy Pillow

Tummy Time Tips Video

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