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Tummy Time

Putting your baby on his tummy for a few minutes every day is recommended. But why is it important? “Tummy time specialist”, Dr. Anne Zachry, answers in this guest post.

Have you ever wondered how the term “tummy time” came about? Here’s a bit of history on the importance of “Back to Sleep and Tummy to Play.”

In 1992 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that parents position their infants on the back or side to sleep in order to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, also known as SIDS. The AAP later excluded the side position as a recommended position because it was discovered that infants often roll over from the side to stomach during sleep, putting them at risk for SIDS. Fortunately, since that initial back sleeping recommendation, the SIDS rate has been reduced by approximately 50%.

I work as a pediatric occupational therapist in the school system and about six or seven years after the “back to sleep” recommendation, I noticed and increase in referrals for children with weakness in their arms and shoulders, poor posture, and messy handwriting. I did some investigating and discovered that the majority of the students being referred for occupational therapy (OT) had something in common. They disliked being positioned on their stomachs as infants!

About that same time, I read that increased numbers of infants were being diagnosed with flat spots on the head. Researchers have determined that back sleeping along with a limited amount of tummy time during the day, may increase an infant’s risk for delayed motor skills and flat spots on the head. Additionally, the overuse of baby gear, such as carriers or swings can put an infant at risk for flat spots on the head.


n 2003, the AAP formally recommended daily tummy time and limiting baby’s time spend in gear to prevent mild developmental delays and reduce the risk of flat spots forming on the head. Still, many parents are not aware of the importance of limiting time in baby gear and providing tummy time, and a number of parents report that their infant doesn’t tolerate time.

Tummy time is important to development because it strengthens the shoulder, arm, and neck muscles that are important for future milestones such as rolling over and pulling up. Here are a few tips to help your baby tolerate tummy time and incorporate this important position into your infant’s daily routine.

·      Start Early: Parents can begin tummy time from the first days of an infant’s life. The earlier baby experiences the position, the less likely he will resist it later on.

·      Be Creative: Tummy time doesn’t always have to take place in a blanket on the floor. Parents can get into a reclined position and place baby on their chest to sneak in a bit of stomach time.

·      Carry Baby Tummy Down: Hold your baby in a belly-down position. Use one forearm to support baby’s chest, and that hand to support the head. Position your other arm under baby’s trunk holding one thigh. This is a nice way to hold and carry your infant.

·      Keep it interesting: Be sure to entertain your infant during tummy time, especially if she tends to resist the position. Holding colorful toy or rattle in front of baby is a great distraction and it encourages baby to hold her head up. This is a wonderful opportunity to bond with your infant.

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As a Registered Nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant I have helped thousands of new families in the early days and weeks after delivery. Over and over, I have seen the same questions and challenges catch new families off guard. 

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