Why Is Tummy Time Important for Your Baby?

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Infant enjoying tummy time

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 we’re 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 Duration

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. Studies suggest that you can start slow and try to work up to 20 minutes twice a day by the time your baby is 3 to 4 months old.

Tummy Time Tips

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 tummy time 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 or a carefully rolled towel or blanket. Be careful to make sure that whatever you place beneath your baby doesn’t obstruct his ability to breathe.
  • Try doing a little infant massage with your baby on his back using high-grade coconut oil or safflower oil that has been approved even for premature babies. This might help with those who really don’t like to be on their tummies.
  • Get down on the floor with your baby and talk or sing to her. If your baby has siblings, sometimes he will respond to having a sibling lie down on the floor as “entertainment,” even more than having an adult to “play with.’ Be careful to watch over children, especially young children.
  • Practice extra caution so that fun loving children and pets don’t get too excited and step on your baby in their excitement.

What You Need to Know

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that daily tummy time can help avoid the development 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.

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