By Emma Nicolau, osteopath.
What is it?
Tummy time is a moment when your baby has supervised time on their tummy when they are awake. It can be on the parent’s chest, lap, carried or on the floor/play mat. Accessories can be used to distract them and encourage them during the little workout.
Since the Back to Sleep campaign (1992), to prevent SIDS, it has been reported that babies spend less supervised time on their tummy while awake during the day due to the lack of guidelines given to the parents. Lack of tummy-time leads to developmental delays and head deformities, increasingly noticed by health care practitioners in paediatrics.
Why does your baby need tummy-time?
Babies spend a lot of time on their backs for obvious reasons but spending supervised time on their tummy is also very important for their development. It keeps babies mobile and helps them to build up the strength of those muscles that are not as stimulated while laying on their backs (arms, shoulder girdle, back and core). It also helps to prevent head deformity, as a baby’s skull is very soft and the bones can be affected by pressure. Head deformity is not just an aesthetic issue; it can maintain asymmetric movements at the level of the neck and creates compensation further down the spine.
Muscle strength promotes movements and better control/coordination; hence it encourages your baby’s motor and sensory development.
“It increases babies’ confidence and independence motivating them to explore their surroundings as they learn to control their bodies” (Peta Smith, 2006)
Babies with lack of tummy-time are prone to delays in their development (they eventually catch up) and plagiocephaly/brachycephaly or “flat heads”.
When to start, how long and how often?
Tummy time can be started soon after birth, ideally once the umbilical cord has fallen and healed correctly. It is recommended that a baby who is awake, alert and happy, should be placed on its tummy as many times as possible in a day, from minutes to longer (at all time supervised!); so that they can get used to lying differently and see the world through a different angle. Tummy-time does not only imply laying your child flat on the floor or playmat; it can also be done on your chest, lap, or while carrying the baby (safely) around the house.
The important part of tummy-time is to place their little hands underneath their shoulders, so they can press on them (baby press-ups). Ideally, after a nappy change and not straight after a feed. The earlier it starts, the better and the most tolerated it is! Remember: those guidelines are only to encourage SUPERVISED tummy time.
What if my baby doesn’t like it?
Tummy time does not have to be dull and spent without enthusiasm. Make the experience fun and entertaining for your baby, using colourful toys, mirrors and other accessories to encourage baby. They may complain at first, but mainly because they are not used to the position, an even stronger sign to do tummy time. As time and frequency on the tummy increase, so will baby’s tolerance.
Back to sleep:
While tummy-time is important for baby’s development, it is essential to place them on their back when asleep. According to Joyce Epstein, Director at the foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths, cot death is nine times more likely if babies are not sleeping on their backs.
It is important to minimise time in car seats, carriers and restrictive mattress such as Cocoonababy as it limits the infant’s movement and will inhibit their physical activity. Baby needs to move around when awake; this is part of their healthy normal development.
If any doubts:
If you find your baby demonstrates delays in their development or if you struggle with tummy time, please do not hesitate to consult with your paediatrician.