As a new or prospective parent, you’ve probably heard about tummy time from a physician, loved one or through any number of different sources.
Although many people know what the term means, they may not be aware of just how important it is for infants or how to maximize the benefits.
Jennifer Lewis, a senior physical therapist at Tidelands Health Pediatric Rehabilitation Services at Azalea Lakes, says tummy time is vital to a baby’s development because it helps babies build their neck and upper body strength, which they need to be able to reach milestones such as lifting their heads and rolling over.
“It’s like a little workout for babies to be on their bellies because they’re having to push into extensions,” she says. “And babies in general want to be curled up into a ball because that’s how they were in the mommy’s belly.”
Inadequate tummy time can delay the development of certain motor skills or lead to plagiocephaly, which is when a baby’s skull becomes flattened on one side.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies be put on their stomachs for three to five minutes at a time two to three times a day, eventually working up to a total of 60 minutes a day.
“We always tell our parents here when they begin tummy time to work in short amounts of time, but to do it frequently every day,” Lewis says.
Tummy time should always be supervised and never while the baby is sleeping. Babies should be put on their backs for sleeping, never their stomachs, to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
“Tummy time always needs to be supervised and not on a fluffy blanket or anything squishy because the baby’s nose and mouth have to be clear for breathing,” Lewis says. “A rolled up receiving blanket can be used for support under the chest if the infant requires extra assistance to start.”
Tummy time should start the day your baby comes home from the hospital, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics .
At first, babies may only be able to withstand a few minutes at a time. But the goal is to increase their ability to say on their stomachs for longer periods of time. Some babies may react unpleasantly because being in that position can be a little uncomfortable at first.
“It’s a lot of work for babies to do it,” Lewis says. “So you just have to do it within their tolerance and then take a break.”
To ease the discomfort your child may feel, you should wait at least 20 minutes after he or she eats to place the baby on his or her stomach. Performing tummy time with the child lying on your chest can also be a good way to get baby to cooperate.
“Tummy time on the parent’s chest is also great for babies because they get that close contact with the parents,” Lewis says.
Once your baby is comfortable on his or her tummy, you might want to bring some toys into the mix.
Placing toys around your baby will motivate him or her to move and grab. Meanwhile, placing a mirror in front of babies will encourage them to lift their heads.
If you are concerned about your infant’s development, you should consult with your child’s physician. A doctor can give you detailed advice and refer you to a pediatric physical therapist if needed.