pediatric occupational therapists

Tackling Tummy Time: Pediatric Occupational Therapists Talk Tips

“Tummy time” is a cute little phrase referencing an essential infant exercise that our pediatric occupational therapists know so many parents come to dread. Per the American Academy of Pediatrics, tummy time should start when your child is a newborn, placing your child (always supervised) on their tummies. This begins with short, 2-to-3-minute increments three times a day and eventually extending it for longer periods of 30-to-40-minutes as they get older.

The whole concept of “tummy time” started back in the early 1990s, when the AAP first began recommending that babies be put “back to sleep,” placed on their backs during naps and at night to reduce the incidence rate of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) – which has really worked! Researchers around the globe report SIDS deaths have decreased 40 to 50 percent since the Back to Sleep campaign began.

The problem is this has been accompanied by a rise in other problems physicians and pediatric occupational therapists believe is related, most commonly plagiocephaly. In layman’s terms, this refers to when infants develop a flat spot on the back of their skull. The American Academy of Physical Therapists reports an “alarming rise” of skull deformation, with one analysis published in the Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Journal finding it rose approximately 600 percent from an incidence rate of 5 percent prior to 1992 (when the “Back to Sleep” campaign began) until now. “Back to Sleep” is almost certainly a driving factor, but also the increasingly inordinate amount of time infants spend in car seats, strollers, etc.

As FOCUS Fort Myers pediatric occupational therapists know, it’s not just important to reduce plagiocephaly, but also because a baby who is always belly-up is much more likely to have delays in motor development. Babies who don’t get the opportunity to work the whole upper half of their body (tummy time helps strengthen their head, neck and upper body muscles) are going to have a much tougher time tackling basic skills like lifting their head, turning over, sitting, crawling, reaching, walking and playing.

Pediatric Occupational Therapists: Why Tummy Time Can Be Tough

Important as it is, we know tummy time isn’t necessarily fun time for everyone. Many parents hesitate to initiate tummy time because they are afraid. They want to keep their child safe from hitting their head or some other mishap). Some are concerned their child isn’t just being fussy, but in real pain (stemming from colic or acid reflux) that seems worse when they’re on their tummies. Others find that other carriers, holders, swings, etc. are just far more tempting of a convenient alternative.

Firstly, as long as your baby is on a firm, flat surface, you are present and paying attention and your baby is awake and alert, tummy time should be safe from the time your child is first born (ask your pediatrician if you have questions). Secondly, if your child is in genuine pain, that shouldn’t be ignored. Discuss it with your child’s doctor. Interestingly though, babies who have this diagnosis sometimes find the tummy-down posture preferable because it can be soothing. Finally, although “child containers” are convenient, they aren’t great for your babies’ physical, social, emotional and cognitive development. They’re fine on occasion, but try to avoid the constant “container shuffle” if you can and give your child more of an opportunity to grow strong and explore the world around them.

Babies may not like tummy time because it creates sensory confusion. A large sense represented in a young brain is vestibular movement and body position. Especially when parents wait until their child is 4 or 5 months old before initiating tummy time, it can feel confusing for an infant. 

Don’t Delay, Avoid Tummy Time

Numerous studies show that when babies have more opportunity for free play on the floor, they’ll hit their developmental milestones sooner. Babies on a flat or firm surface can move, extend, flex and grow stronger. They won’t learn magically to roll if they’re strapped to a seat all day.

Sometimes development milestones can be missed entirely, with lasting consequences. Studies have shown that babies who get regular tummy time from Day 1 tend to have better posture, seated attendance, hand-eye coordination, strength, aided digestion and development in certain muscles that could event eventually help with skills like handwriting. 

OT Tips for Tummy Time

Per the American Occupational Therapists Association, making tummy time a priority and part of your routine is critical. Here are some tips they recommend to make that happen:

  • Incorporate tummy time into things you and your baby are already doing, like changing diapers, applying lotion, drying with a towel after bath.
  • When you burp your child, lay him across your lap on his tummy.
  • Because it’s never too late to start reading to your child, make tummy time story time!

If you have questions about tummy time for your infant, ask one of our experienced Fort Myers pediatric occupational therapists.

FOCUS offers occupational therapy in Fort Myers, Lehigh Acres, Cape Coral and throughout Lee County and Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Establishing Tummy Time Routines to Enhance Your Baby’s Development, The American Academy of Occupational Therapists

More Blog Entries:

Occupational Therapists Offer Sensory Tips for Kids on Winter Break, Dec. 23, 2018, Fort Myers Pediatric Occupational Therapists Blog

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