Tummy Time" is a familiar phrase for most new parents. Since the early ’90s "Back to Sleep" campaign, when the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended babies sleep on their backs to help prevent SIDS deaths, the phrase has steadily gained importance.
While most experts agree that sleeping on their backs is best for babies, time spent on the tummy is just as important.
"Tummy time is so helpful developmentally," says Jill Braselton, a registered nurse and prenatal educator at Central DuPage Hospital. "It helps babies learn to move around and develops the muscle tone in their stomachs, necks, backs and arms—the muscles necessary to help them grow."
Patti Ideran, a pediatric occupational therapist at CDH, agrees. "Being on their tummies helps improve strength and control," she says, adding that when the arms and shoulders are stronger, "it encourages and improves mobility."
But a lot of parents back off from encouraging tummy time since many babies resist being on their tummies and become fussy.
"Parents don’t like hearing their babies cry," says Braselton. "They just need to remember it encourages and supports their natural development."
In fact, delaying or avoiding "tummy time" can delay development and cause other problems, like flattened heads (or positional plageocephaly).
So start early and make "tummy time" a part of your baby’s routine—building up the time he’s on his tummy.
"It’s a workout for them because it’s getting them to use muscles they don’t use when they’re in a car seat or a bouncer, or when they’re sleeping," says Braselton, who recommends rolling a receiving blanket or soft towel into a long tube, and placing it under babies’ armpits to support them in the position they need to start using and strengthening those muscles. You can use your hand on the bottom as a light weight to keep the baby in position.
If your baby gets cranky, a mirror or a toy in front of his face will be both a distraction and entertainment, as will your own presence. "Get down in their faces and interact with them," says Braselton.
"The sooner you start them on their tummies—even for just two minutes at first—the more comfortable they’ll become in that position and the stronger their muscles will be to help them reach the next developmental milestone."
"We recommend that every time babies are awake they should spend some time on their tummies," she says, adding that, "if parents don’t start with ‘tummy time’ until their babies are older, the less likely they are to enjoy it and will resist being on their stomachs."
Ideran also stresses that baby equipment, such as chairs, walkers, Johnny Jump-Ups, standers, etc., shouldn’t be used for more than 15 minutes per day because they take away opportunities for tummy time.