You may often hear your physical therapist or pediatrician push for tummy time. Why is it so important?
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, 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 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, the baby will begin to move their arms and legs separate of one another.
When lying on their tummy, babies have to use their back and neck muscles to hold their head up or turn their head to look at parents or toys. As the baby gets stronger during tummy time, they will push up their elbows or arms and begin to hold their chest up. This weight bearing through the arms will help develop stability to hold the shoulder blade on the back. This is necessary for the baby to learn how 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 this 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 movement, 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.
Here is a video for some tricks and tips on how to incorporate tummy time into your day!