The Importance of Tummy Time

Because babies today spend a lot of time on their backs, the importance of tummy time is often overlooked. Since 1994, the American Academy of Pediatrics has encouraged parents to put their infants to bed on their backs. The “Back To Sleep” campaign, as it was called, was intended to educate parents about safe infant sleep positions and the potential danger of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, SIDS. Today, at the urging of pediatricians, nurses and other health care providers, babies are put on their backs for sleep, in “safe cribs” with no soft bedding to impede a baby’s airway while sleeping.

Happily, the incidence of SIDS has dropped by 40% since this initiative began. At the same time, because infants spend a significant portion of their day sleeping, babies are spending many more hours on their backs than babies did years ago. Coupled with this, babies are often placed in carriers with rigid backs during their waking hours. As a result of this added pressure on the back of the baby’s head, some babies acquire an abnormal shape or flattening of the back of the head.

To prevent this flattening and to facilitate normal motor development, babies should frequently be placed on their tummies during waking hours. This should be done while you are observing your baby and/or playing with him. There are many ways this can be accomplished: hold your baby on your chest while you are in a reclined position, or place him on a play mat. In either case, you should be eye to eye with him so he will learn to lift his head to see you. Encourage older siblings to do the same and place favorite toys in front of the baby so that he will look and eventually begin to reach for toys. Place babies on their sides also to give them some variety in their positioning. By assisting them in this position, they will learn to roll.

As babies learn to lift their heads, they are also pushing up with their arms and developing strength in their necks, backs, shoulders and arms. These are the muscles they will need to roll, crawl and sit.

Some babies with reflux have difficulty on their tummies and may spit up more. Try placing them on a wedge so their head is higher than their tummy and only put them on their tummies after they have had time to digest their last feeding.

Babies may occasionally fuss when first placed in tummy time. Begin by having them in this position for just a few minutes and then try to increase the time daily. Make it a fun time by talking, singing, rubbing his back, etc. Babies need to experience different positions so that their muscles will strengthen and they will begin to move independently.