To reduce the risk of SIDS and suffocation, you know the mantra: Place babies to sleep on their backs (unless your pediatrician advises otherwise) at naptime and nighttime in a crib that meets the latest safety standards.
Since the “Back to Sleep” campaign was initiated in 1994 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, SIDS rates have declined by 50 percent. That’s good news. Still, there’s a downside. Because babies spend so much time on their backs when they’re sleeping, they may not be spending enough time on their tummies when they’re awake to develop appropriately.
“Tummy time is critical,” says Brannon Perilloux, M.D., a pediatrician. “It develops head control, which helps develop walking skills, and increases neck and body strength and improves balance.” When babies are on their tummies, they instinctively do the infant version of push-ups: They use their shoulder muscles to push their head and shoulders off the floor.
As a result, babies who put in enough tummy time develop head and neck control early and strong shoulder muscles that can help improve their posture and neck strength, a prerequisite for crawling and other physical skills. To make the most of this important developmental activity:
Tummy time should start from day one, beginning with 3 to 5 minutes, two to three times each day, working up to 30 to 90 minutes daily as your baby gets older,” says Melanie Mintz, DPT, a board-certified pediatric physical therapist. Feel free to break that time up into five or 10-minute increments. Official tummy time can end when your baby starts to roll and crawl.
Invest in an activity gym.
Detach your baby’s favorite toys and have her reach for them. At first, your baby may only be able to make general movements toward the object. Reaching for toys helps foster mobility. “One of the precursors to crawling is being able to shift your weight and pivot on your tummy,” Mintz says.
Be your baby’s play mat.
For babies who cry as soon as they’re placed on the floor, try an inclined version of tummy time: Have your baby lie on your chest, while you sit in a semi-reclined position. It’s easier on babies because they don’t have to use as much muscle strength to hold their head up. “Work your way down to a reclined position,” Mintz says.
For more ideas on how to integrate
tummy time into your baby’s routine, visit
www.pathways.org and click on
“Five Essential Tummy Time Moves.”