You have a baby and one of the first things you hear from the pediatrician, your mother, your grandmother,  and your mother in law is “MAKE SURE THAT BABY GETS ENOUGH TUMMY TIME!”

While this is a great point (and a frequently asked question for us as Early Intervention therapists) did you ever wonder WHY?

Tummy time, or time resting or playing on a firm surface is important for plenty of reasons, but here are a few of the most important. Tummy time….
* Strengthens your baby’s anti-gravity muscles, or the muscles that help eventually lift your baby off the ground..lifting their head to look around, shoulders to roll, torso and limbs to crawl and to sit up, and eventually their whole little self to come to stand and walk. Think of this as an equivalent to your own workout. You know without the crunches you won’t get the abdominal muscles you want. Without the practice on the tummy, these muscles won’t get strong enough to help baby explore and meet milestones.
* Improves visual strength and hand eye coordination by allowing practice focusing on gazing at the hands while pushing the belly off the floor at the same time. 
* Facilitates a well shaped head. Your baby’s skull is still pliable. Too much time resting against a surface can actually flatten the skull and shift one side more forward than the other.
* Helps develop muscular arches in the hand important later on for picking up small objects and for accuracy and success with handwriting.
* Can aid in digestion.

The Back to Sleep Program was implemented to reduce the risk of infant deaths from SIDS. This program has been very successful and is extremely important.  Babies should sleep safely on their backs following guidelines reviewed with a pediatrician, but during their waking hours it’s our responsibility as parents to get them on their tummies to reap the benefits listed above.  Think about it this way, before this program, babies slept on their tummies and we saw fewer cases of “developmental delay” or “late walking” because children got strong from exercising those anti-gravity muscles while on their tummies. I am in no way suggesting that we put babies on their tummies to sleep. The risk is just too great, however, we can and should make up that lost tummy time during the day and through play. There are numerous children receiving school based Occupational Therapy for “handwriting” issues.  I can’t help but think that lack of exposure to tummy time has played a role in this increased occurrence as well.  I went to a continuing education course where the speaker recommended that we educate parents that babies spend 80% OF THEIR WAKING HOURS ON THEIR TUMMIES! I can confess that I did not do this with daughter #1. I put her on her tummy, She cried. I picked her up. We repeated this routine with a little more tummy time each week. I did change my game plan when it came to #2 and did notice she picked up milestones more quickly.  My point is, that even a little time each hour will go a long way for your child.

Here’s some advice to make the tummy tolerable in your home:

1) ALWAYS be present during tummy time and ALWAYS use a firm surface for safety.
2) If your baby dislikes being on the tummy, try a rolled towel or Boppy Pillow under the arms, or placing your baby on your chest instead of the floor.
3) Hang motivators overhead (soft toys or rattles in a play gym are great) or in front (mirror or you!) of your baby.
4) Place your baby on his/her tummy each hour and increase the time by one minute each try.
5) Avoid what I like to call “container syndrome.” People give great baby gifts and we tend to use them and move baby from the bouncer seat to the swing to the stroller to the car seat to the exersaucer and back to the bouncer seat. Great, right? WRONG! Where’s the floor? Babies can’t learn to crawl or roll if they don’t practice. Think your floor is dirty? Use that beautiful pack-n-play!

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