In 1993, the Canadian Paediatric Society formally recommended that infants sleep on their backs to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and ever since, babies have been spending less and less time on their tummies.
And researchers are now saying that moving and exploring the world on their tummies stimulates babies’ brains in new and important ways.
“Tummy Time” is beneficial for several reasons. One benefit is sensory experience. When positioned on their tummies, children experience the world through an entirely different perspective. They feel their body in a different position, feel the effects of gravity differently on their body parts, and see their environment from a different perspective. The development of muscle strength, and the coordination of the muscles needed to maintain this position, is another important benefit. When children are positioned on their tummies at a young age it helps promote the development of their neck, shoulder and upper trunk muscles. Head control vastly improves when these muscles are strengthened, as does the infant’s ability to use their arms and hands for activities. These muscles are integral for activities like reaching, grasping, manipulating, rolling, sitting, crawling and walking.
In today’s society, children are often kept in upright positions… in car seats, bouncy chairs, jolly jumpers, and exersaucers. Many parents neglect to place their children on their tummies, on the floor, as often as they should. This very basic play concept has unfortunately, been overlooked during the past decade. In fact, researchers have found that this lack of tummy time has lead to an increase in gross motor delays.
A parent should introduce “Tummy Time” when the child is between 2 to 3 months of age and when they are able, for the most part, to hold their head up against gravity (even for short periods of time). Children should ALWAYS be supervised by an adult while in this position. Even newborns can benefit from tummy time! Parents should be encouraged to have their babies lie on their chest, when sleeping or dozing; infants tolerate being on their stomachs better when they are placed in a more upright, slanted position. They can also be “propped-up” with a towel positioned under their arms.
Infants should be provided with “Tummy Time” at least once daily and more frequently if possible. Dr. Stacey O’Connor, an osteopathic doctor with IHA Livingston Pediatrics in Brighton, tells her patients to put their babies on their tummies for 10 minutes three times a day after they are six to eight weeks old.
Outlined below are three ways to support your baby’s development:
1. Give your baby plenty of ‘floor time.’ While putting babies on the floor is contrary to many of our previous customs, it is one of the best ways to support both physical skills and the development of a baby’s sense of competence. Babies who spend time on open, clean, safe, flat surfaces, free of infant seats or other restrictive carriers, have the opportunity to learn about their bodies in space. They get to learn what positions they can get themselves into and out of. They develop the muscles they need for their next developmental challenge. Babies who are playing on the floor are strengthening all of the muscles they will later need to roll over, sit up and crawl. Babies who are crawling on their own are exercising the muscles they will later need for walking. Limiting the amount of time babies spend in car seats, infant carriers, swings, chairs and other restrictive containers allows babies to have lots of chance to develop their muscles, skills and body awareness through ‘floor time.’ Just as important as physical development is the development of a baby’s sense of competence. Having the opportunity to learn how to make one’s body do something new gives an infant the idea, ‘I can do it!’ and the confidence to keep trying new things…even at an early age.
2. Get down on the floor with your baby. Not all babies like to lie and/or play on their tummies. This is because there is an increased pressure on the stomach and the lungs…breathing is more difficult. The child also feels frightened as they do not have the same visual orientation as they do when in an upright position or on their backs. The best solution is to get down on the floor with your child. Not all babies this age like to lie and/or play on their tummies. This is because there is an increased pressure on the stomach and the lungs…breathing is more difficult. The child also feels frightened as they do not have the same visual orientation as they do when in an upright position or on their backs. In spending floor time with your baby, you can just watch and see what your baby does, where she looks, and how she moves. You can see the world from her perspective. You could sing with her, talk to her and call her name to encourage her to look at you. Just being on her level allows her to communicate with you using all the subtleties of her nonverbal, as well as your verbal communication.
3. Support your infant’s achievements. We all want to do the best we can for our children, especially with regard to infant development. What babies really need is our attention, observation and our responsiveness. In the first year of life, babies are learning trust. They are learning that the world is a place where they will get their needs met, where they can make things happe, and where they can safely explore. Our job is not to “teach” them these things. Our job, as parents, is to get to know them, to enjoy them, to provide them with safe and interesting learning spaces, to learn their unique communication systems and to be responsive to them.
The importance of “Tummy Time” is clear. It is beneficial for all children and helps to further promote their development in the areas of gross motor, fine motor, and sensory motor functioning. It also helps promote their cognitive and social skills. Every parent should set aside a few minutes each day to make sure their child benefits from some “Tummy Time”!
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