The Importance of Tummy Time
Sarah Cowgill (Physiotherapist – Burnie/Somerset)
Many of us out there will be familiar with the term ‘tummy time’. It relates to having your child positioned in prone (on their tummy) for a period whilst either playing or lying down.
Why is tummy time so important?
- Tummy time helps prevent plagiocephaly and torticollis.
Plagiocephaly (flattened head) and torticollis (crooked neck) can be a result of spending too much time in the one position on a child’s back. A baby’s skull bones have not yet fused and therefore can move a little. Prolonged time on their back can result in the baby’s head rubbing against the ground in one particular area over and over eventually resulting in the head flattening in that area. Being in this one position can also lead to the baby’s neck muscles tightening which can result in a crooked neck.
Due to SIDS it is very important to have babies sleeping on their backs, however when awake parents should aim to have a child on their tummy as much as possible to reduce the risk of plagiocephaly and torticollis. If you are concerned your child has plagiocephaly or torticollis, Sarah, our paediatric trained Physiotherapist, can help.
2. Tummy time helps to build important muscle strength.
When babies are placed on their tummies, they have to learn to hold their head up against gravity to look at and interact with the world around them. Eventually with time the baby’s muscles strengthen and they can start to lift their heads up and hold this position for a period of time. The development of these muscles is essential to be able to maintain head posture in everyday tasks later in life. This extended position they are in also helps to build essential lumbar (back) muscle strength which is very important in the development of a strong core.
Adequate neck and back strength are essential to progress to tasks like sitting, rolling and crawling.
Babies will not be able to hold their heads up initially, but it is important to let them persevere and eventually they will be capable of doing it – just like adults trying to build strength up at the gym we have to start somewhere!
Tips for Tummy Time
- Tummy time sessions can start from the age of 3 weeks. As the first 6-8 weeks are crucial in preventing plagiocephaly, an early start to tummy time is very important.
- Try to use a variety of toys, lights, sounds and other stimuli to get the child looking all around them to prevent a one-sided preference which could lead to torticollis. As a young baby voices, patterns and light (e.g. windows, doorways) are more stimulating than toys, but toys are great as the child becomes more aware of their surroundings.
- If a child is not liking tummy time, try and get down to their level so they can see you. Sometimes a baby will get distressed on their stomach as they cannot see their parents.
- Try to supervise tummy time closely especially when the baby is young and having difficulty holding its head up.
- Avoid long periods in car seats, bassinets, prams as these all involve pressure onto the back of the head.
- If your baby doesn’t like tummy time on the floor, try tummy time on your lap or belly or in your arms.
- Use props to start if required. Things like a pillow or towel that can be rolled up can act as a prop. Try to decrease the size of the prop over time.
- Try some tummy time on a fit-ball while ensuring adequate control – gently rock the ball. This can make it fun for the child as it great for their proprioception (awareness of the body’s movements in space).
- Baby airplanes are a great fun game to play in the prone position.
- Aim for tummy time 2-3x day – initially for 5 minutes but aim to progress to 10mins by the first month and add 10 minutes for every month after that, until 6 months.
Remember ‘Backs for sleep, tummy for play’!