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Tummy Time

Infants

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Updated June 25, 2007

An older infant playing with blocks during tummy time.

An older infant playing with blocks during tummy time.

Photo (c) moswyn
As much as experts have been stressing that you put your baby to sleep on her back, it is likely a bit surprising that you sometimes hear about the importance that your baby also spend some time on her stomach, which is called tummy time.

Although it would seem like these recommendations contradict each other, there is an important difference:

  • tummy time is just for when your baby is awake,
  • you should continue to put your baby to sleep on her back to reduce the risk of SIDS.

Importance of Tummy Time

One reason that tummy time is important is usually obvious to parents, and that is because many babies develop a flat head from sleeping on their backs. Although often temporary, this condition, called positional plagiocephaly can often be prevented and treated by helping your child spend less time in the same position on her back and more time on her tummy when she is awake. And unfortunately, some children do need medical treatment, like with a DOC band or helmet, for their positional plagiocephaly when more conservative methods don't work.

Spending less time prone or on their stomach also can cause some delays in picking up milestones, including rolling over, sitting up, and crawling. Fortunately, by the time they were toddlers, these delays all seem to disappear no matter how your baby sleeps, so it likely more appropriate to describe these kids as having a 'lag' in their development and not a true delay. Still, if you want to avoid this 'lag,' you might try some tummy time during the day.

Lastly, tummy time can be a fun way to spend time with your baby!

Tummy Time

Unfortunately, many parents say that their babies hate tummy time, which should usually last 10 to 20 minutes once, or twice a day, and just cry when they put them down on their tummies.

Some tips to help your baby enjoy tummy time include that you:

  • start with shorter periods of tummy time - maybe even two or three minutes a day
  • lay on your back and lay your baby down on her tummy on your chest
  • lay her on a tummy time play mat with some age appropriate toys to play with, especially once she has some upper body strength to actually reach for and play with them
  • prop her chest up with a pillow
  • get down on the floor with your baby and talk or sing to her

What You Need To Know

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that daily tummy time can help avoid the develop of positional plagiocephaly or a flat head and also "enhance motor development."

  • You can usually start formal tummy time when your baby is about two months old and your baby is able to lift her head. Before that, although it is okay to put your baby down on her tummy while she is awake and being supervised, if she isn't lifting and moving her head much, then it really isn't tummy time.

  • If your baby continues to hate tummy time, you can often just wait a few weeks and try again. You can also take other steps to keep your baby's head from lying in the same position, such as using an infant carrier during the day, alternating sleep positions (while continuing to sleep on his back though), and avoiding leaving your infant in car seats, when he is not in a car, and bouncy type seats for long periods of time.



Sources:

Asymmetric heads and failure to climb stairs. Kemp JS - J Pediatr - 01-NOV-2006; 149(5): 594-5

Association between sleep position and early motor development. Majnemer A - J Pediatr - 01-NOV-2006; 149(5): 623-629

Management of deformational plagiocephaly: repositioning versus orthotic therapy. Graham JM Jr - J Pediatr - 01-FEB-2005; 146(2): 258-62

American Academy of Pediatrics. The Changing Concept of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: Diagnostic Coding Shifts, Controversies Regarding the Sleeping Environment, and New Variables to Consider in Reducing Risk. Pediatrics 116: 1245-1255.

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