Tummy time is part of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) campaign, Back to Sleep, Tummy to Play, launched in 1992 in an effort to minimize sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). By putting infants to sleep on their backs, the rate of SIDS has plunged by nearly 70% according to some estimates. An unfortunate side affect of the campaign is that more children are developing positional plagiocephaly, or flattened head syndrome. This is when an infant’s head becomes flattened on one side of the head, potentially causing a malformed skull.
One study has reported that the average infant spends nearly 60 waking hours confined to a crib, playpen, swing, car seat or stroller. This “containerizing” of infants has a detrimental affect on their muscular and motor development. Tummy time gives infants much needed physical activity, which helps them to strengthen their muscles and practice motor skills. Spending time on the tummy lays the foundation for head and neck control, crawling, pushing up, sitting and rolling over.
Most doctors recommend about two to three sessions of tummy time per day, for about ten minutes at a time. If your baby absolutely hates it, any amount of time is better than none. From the time your baby’s umbilical chord stump falls off, make tummy time a part of your daily routine. If your baby has an adverse reaction to tummy time, gradually increase the time he spends there until he reaches a good amount.
Picking the right time of day for tummy time is crucial. After a feeding or before naptime may not be the best time. Usually, after a nap or diaper change is better. Most babies don’t have very good head control until around four months, so you may need to prop her up with a rolled up towel or special pillow under her chest. This raises the upper body and head so that your baby can get a better look around.
Toys are an important part of tummy time. This is the time for your baby to explore the world around him, so make sure to put interesting toys within his reach. Vary where you put the toys so that your baby will have to “work” to see them.
Gradually, you can move the toys further and further away so that he has to scoot himself to them. Musical toys, toys that light up, books and mirrors are all the entertainment your baby will need. There are also special mats designed for tummy time.
The most important part of tummy time, besides the physical and mental activity, is the opportunity for your baby to interact and bond. Your encouragement and stimulation gives your baby the confidence she needs to learn and develop.