“My daughter hates tummy time!” “Every time I put him on his stomach he cries within one minute.” “Oh, he does NOT like to be on his stomach.”
Tummy time! Most parents have heard of it and pediatricians talk about it. What is it and why is it so important? As a pediatric occupational therapist tummy time is the one thing I can’t say enough about (hence the twenty blogs about it!). The central nervous system (including the brain and the nerves) is hard wired to lift up against gravity when an infant placed on the belly. This means that when an infant is placed on her belly she will automatically begin to lift up her head from the floor. This process of developing head control begins around the age of one month as an infant lifts her head from the caregivers shoulder. As she grows and develops she will lift her head, then her shoulders (around age four months), then use her hands to help push herself up from the floor (around 6-71/2 months). As this process continues infants will eventually push up on the hands and knees and before we know it crawl across the floor (around 9 to 11 months).
Not only does tummy time encourage and develop the hands, arms, shoulders, hips, and legs it also helps to develop many other processes. For example, when an infant is on the floor he looks around at objects on the floor. As his muscles and bones develop he will lift his head up higher and higher to see more and more. Not only does this encourage exploration of the environment, it also helps the eyes to develop a strong connection with the vestibular system (our sense of movement). The connection between the eyes and the vestibular system is very important because it teaches the eyes how to adjust while the body is moving. So fast forward several years to elementary school. Now a child is able to adjust his eyes and posture to be able to look between the board and the desk keeping his eyes focused during the entire process. Would you ever imagine that tummy time could have an impact on elementary school learning? Yes!! It does!
If your infant isn’t crazy about tummy time here are some things to try:
- Lay on your back and put your baby on your belly. You will end up face to face. Sometimes the comfort from mom or dad helps babies to tolerate tummy time more easily.
- Distraction!! While your baby is on her belly lay on the floor in front of her and sing, dance, act like a monkey. Do whatever it takes to distract your baby from the fact that she is in a position she doesn’t care for.
- Sit on the floor with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Lay your baby on your legs (between the feet and the knees) with his face towards you. Talk with your baby, sing, tell a story. Gradually straighten your legs until the baby is positioned in a tummy time position.
- If your baby can tolerate any tummy time gradually build up the time until he or she can stay in the position for longer amounts of time.
- Hold your baby in your arms in the tummy time position, gently rock your baby back and forth.
- Lay your baby on his tummy across your legs.
More about tummy time soon!
All ages taken from the Developmental Milestones Guide by Coastal OT Connections, Inc.