As a new parent, I am sure you have heard of tummy time for your infant, and how it is important for their development. My goal with this blog is to dive deep into the mechanics of tummy time, why it is important and some of the things that you should and should not be doing while having your infant on their belly.
What Is It And Why Is It Important?
Tummy time is when you allow your infant to lay in the prone position (on their belly) while they are awake and during a supervised period of time. It is so important because it helps develop neck and shoulder stability, as well as promoting mobility in their thoracic spine. When the newborn is in the tummy time position, they are actively using their shoulder and neck muscles to help them interact with their environment. This is an essential step for the newborn because it activates and strengthens these stabilizers, reinforcing one of the earliest and most important primary movement patterns. In addition, getting the newborn into different positions can also help decrease the chance of Plagiocephaly, or the development of a flat spot on the back of the head.
Lets dive a little deeper in some of the developmental importance of tummy time. Lying in the prone position helps the spine work into the sagittal plane (forwards and backwards), which is one of the most often used motions of the spine. Working into these motions allows for the development of the cervical and lumbar curvature and will strengthen the deep neck stabilizers as well as the core. These two areas are often dysfunctional in people who have neck and low back pain, which may indicate an inadequate amount of tummy time while they were growing up!
The Dos And the Don’ts
Lets start with the Don’ts! You should never let your child lay unattended for any period of time, because they may become tired and may put their head down. This can interfere with breathing or make them uncomfortable. Speaking of them being in discomfort, if your child begins to cry, they are uncomfortable and you should discontinue tummy time for that duration. If your infant is always showing signs of discomfort while being on the floor, don’t avoid tummy time altogether. Instead, you should try starting with them lying on your chest while they are on their belly. They will feel more comfortable with your support and allow them to transition to the floor more easily. Lastly, something I see often, is to not move your child’s arm to a “good” or “better” position. If they aren’t fussing they are fine and they will begin to work to move their arm from that position into a better one for them. It is important to not move their arm into a different position because the shoulder stabilizing muscles develop at a certain pace, supporting the arm differently at certain developmental stages. A newborn will typically have the tendency to have a more flexed shoulder position, and will become more extended as they age through three months and gain more strength.
Now for the Do’s! You do want to play with your child while they are in the tummy time position. You should talk to them, play with them and help make it fun. You do want to mix it up, changing where you lay to help increase symmetrical development with each side because they will want to look at different things. Challenge them to look to both sides, you never want to just let them look to one side because it is easier. Something that is fun is getting a mirror to help with tummy time. I have yet to meet an infant or child that doesn’t like to look at themselves in a mirror! Lastly, you do want to spend a lot of time on their bellies. I suggest to parents to have their children spend as much time on their bellies as they do on their backs!
When should we start tummy time? For healthy babies it is recommended to start tummy time as soon as possible, which is usually in the first 48 hours. Again start with a small duration and work up to longer times. Initially tummy time is a lot of work for baby. Start with short durations—1 to 2 min at a time—and as they begin to enjoy tummy time and get stronger increase the frequency and duration.
Keep an eye out, because in a future blog we will talk about the importance of your baby spending time on their sides, as it is equally important for the development of stability and mobility!
-Dr. Kenzie Burgei
This blog was originally intended for Wisconsin Family and Sports Chiropractic