The Back to Sleep program was initiated in 1992, in order to decrease the occurrence of SIDS. Since then, there has been a decline in parents/caregivers placing their infants on their tummy. Additionally, many do not think about tummy time for play and caregivers are generally not provided with information on recommended play positions.
As a result of less time spent on their tummies, there has been an increase in the number of infants with developmental delays, This means that infants are taking longer to develop the muscles they need to achieve developmental milestones in a timely manner, such as holding their heads upright and rolling. There has also been an increase in infants with misshapen heads, such as plagiocephaly.
Parents and caregivers need to know the importance of awake, supervised tummy time, and how they can safely incorporate it into their day to day lifestyle.
What is Tummy Time?
Tummy time is the time that an infant spends on their belly/tummy. They are not sitting up, laying on their backs or even vertically held against their parent’s/caregiver’s chest.
For tummy time to count, they need to be awake and supervised. Being awake is important, because as they move, wiggle and even get upset, they are working their muscles that are needed for development, such as rolling and crawling.
Why Do We Not Put Our Infants on Their Tummies?
- Fear – some may feel that their infants could hurt themselves, or stop breathing.
- The infant does not like tummy time – They cry as soon as they are put on their tummies so we avoid it.
- Some are unsure as to when they can do tummy time, are they old enough?
- Use of devices, such as swings, bouncy seats and jumpers to vary an infants position instead of their tummy.
Why is Tummy Time Important?
Tummy time works babies muscles that are needed for development.
Awake, tummy time play has been shown to promote gross motor skill development. It allows for strengthening of antigravity extensor muscles that are needed for motor skills, such as rolling, crawling and pulling to stand. It also allows for movement exploration, thus increasing the infant’s opportunities to learn new motor skills.
Tummy time also helps alleviate gas pain and assists with preventing misshapen heads (plagiocephaly).
When Should You Begin Tummy Time?
- A newborn baby can begin right away.
- Always do tummy time supervised.
- Newborns sleep most of the time, so a great way to begin tummy time, with a newborn, is having them lay on your chest.
How Long Do I Do Tummy Time For?
Recommendations on the amount of time in a day an infant should spend on their tummy varies greatly.
Studies range from a minimum recommendation of 20 minutes a day to at least 80 minutes a day for a 16 week old infant. What is consistent is that the higher the duration of tummy time, the better development of gross motor skills.
So, recommend begin slowly, and immediately. Try to aim for at least 10 minutes a day for up to 1 month of age, then keep adding 10 minutes for each month, until your baby rolls independently. So at 6 months of age, they should be on their tummy for at least 60 minutes a day.
Also, if your infant only tolerates 30 seconds, then do 30 seconds, take a break, and repeat so that over the course of the day the time adds up.
Ideas On Doing Tummy Time At Home
- On your chest – As long as you are laying down, this counts as tummy time. This is often calming to your baby, they can look at you, and they can feel your heart beat.
- Over your lap/towel roll/boppy pillow – anything that helps them at first to tolerate it longer, then progress to only a firm, flat surface.
- Mirror – babies love mirrors. Can use a mirror to improve visual attention. Babies love to look at themselves.
- Get on the floor with them – smile at them, make sounds, sing to them…. Have siblings entertain them….
- Use toys for visual stimulation/interest
- Rub their backs/legs/arms while they are on their tummies – this feels good and is not only calming, but also activates the muscles.
YOU CAN DO THIS! Tummy time is a great time to interact with your baby, bond with them and just have fun! Tummy time should be done when your baby is awake and always while supervised. You can keep track of tummy time with a simple chart to make it easier to keep track of and less stressful.
Catherine Stubbs, PT, DPT, PCS is a licensed Physical Therapist and Department Director at Pediatric Rehabilitation, Columbus, GA. She has been employed with HPRC since 2002. Catherine received her M.S. in Physical Therapy in 2000 from North Georgia College and State University and her DPT in 2019 from Arcadia University. She is an APTA board certified clinical specialist in pediatric physical therapy. Catherine lives with her husband, Brian, and children in Columbus, Georgia.