Tummy time is simply placing your baby on their stomach during awake hours so that they can play and explore. However simple tummy time may sound, it proves to be a challenge to many parents. Tummy time is essential for developing muscle and vision coordination that leads to key milestones, such as grasping and crawling. If your baby is having trouble with tummy time, physical therapy may be the answer.
The term “tummy time” was first coined in the 1990s when the Back to Sleep Program was developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Soon after this program began, pediatricians began seeing flat spots on infants’ heads due to the increased time on their backs. They began recommending that infants spend more awake time on their stomachs to develop their head control and prone stomach lying skills.
If a child is not given the opportunity to explore on their stomach, the impact can be delayed muscle development, reduced range of motion in the neck and setbacks in reaching milestones. Some signs that your baby needs more tummy time are flat spots on the baby’s head, inability to roll over on to their stomach at the appropriate age, trouble turning their head or being fussy when placed on their stomach.
Tummy time should begin as soon as your baby arrives home from the hospital. For parents of newborns, carving out time when the infant is alert for tummy play can be the biggest challenge. Eyas Landing PTs recommend doing tummy time immediately following a diaper change or bath, when a baby is more alert. As babies get a bit older, tolerating tummy time can become more difficult simply because it is hard to lift their heads and they cannot see as much of the world around them. Another tip from our PTs is joining your baby during tummy time so the baby feels safe and can easily interact with you by smiling and cooing.
Soon babies will be able to turn their heads from side to side and spend more time playing on the floor. In this position, babies love looking at mirrors or their parents lying on the floor next to them. They also love music and light up toys, since they won’t yet be able to reach or grab items. If you notice your baby seems frustrated on the floor, placing a small towel under their chest to help lift their head up might help them see more of their environment.
When babies are ready to start reaching and playing on their tummies, parents should focus on having easy-to-grab small toys nearby. Plastic toy links or small rattles tend to be a favorite of babies in this stage. Parents can also place a favorite small toy just out of reach, so their babies can practice shifting their weight and scooting closer to the toy they want.
Our PTs recommend consistency for the best results. Every baby is different during tummy time. As a parent, you know what technique and toys work best for your baby. There is no “right” way to do tummy time, as long as your baby is able to experience this position on a daily basis. Eyas Landing PTs are available to provide individualized answers to any of your concerns.