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Since the beginning of the “Back to Sleep” campaign in 1992, physicians and therapists noticed significant changes in the achievement of developmental motor milestones such as delays in rolling, sitting, crawling, and pull-to-stand.

This recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics has resulted in a decrease of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome by almost 50 percent. However, aside from the motor skill delays, we have seen some other negative side effects as well, such as head flattening and torticollis (tightening of the muscles in one side of the neck). Recognizing these changes, the campaign has since become “Back to Sleep, Tummy to Play.”

The Sensory Benefits of Tummy Time

Encouraging babies to be on their tummies when awake helps to prevent head-flattening and serves to strengthen the arms, neck and back muscles to facilitate development of motor skills. Additionally, tummy time promotes visual development, encourages interaction with the environment, and provides critical sensory input. From a sensory perspective alone, here are a few of the major benefits:

Proprioceptive input

Our proprioceptive receptors, in our muscles and joints, are activated through muscle contraction or elongation. While on their tummies, babies get proprioceptive input through most major muscles and joints in the body as they begin to resist gravity in this position. Proprioceptive input is organizing to the brain and promotes body awareness, which is the foundation for motor skill development.

Vestibular input

In a nutshell, our vestibular system tells us where we are in relationship to gravity. As babies learn to lift their heads and keep their heads centered from the tummy-time position, they are receiving vestibular input which will enhance their sense of balance and help to integrate primitive reflexes.

Tactile input

While positioned on their tummies, babies are experiencing tactile (touch) input to their hands and faces, two of the most sensitive areas of the body. This type of input early on helps the tactile system mature so later, the babies will be more accepting of other forms of tactile input such as textured foods and fine motor play.

Promote Tummy Time

End each diaper change by rolling the baby onto his/her tummy and gently rubbing their back.

Carry babies in the face forward position, or position newborns on your arm with their head by your elbow and your hand supporting their legs. Both of these positions will encourage head control and the quicker the babies develop head control, the quicker they will enjoy tummy time.

Start “tummy time” on day one, or at least as soon as the umbilical cord falls off. Most newborns will tolerate tummy time and find it soothing, whereas babies even a few weeks old will be more resistant if just starting to experience this position for the first time.

Most babies will prefer to lay on a soft blanket, or a blanket with interesting textures, rather than the carpet. For babies who need some support, make a small roll with a hand towel to position under their arms and chest. This will make it easier to lift their head off the ground.

Facilitate head-lifting by using firm strokes on the baby’s back starting at the base of of the head and moving toward the  baby’s diaper.

Lay down on the floor in front of your baby and sing and clap to get them to look at you. Your face is more interesting to your baby than anything else in the world. Enjoy this while you can – the teen years will be here before you know it!

Put a mirror in front of your baby. Babies love to look at themselves.

Position interesting toys around your baby. Once they can push up on their forearms well, move the toys just out of their grasp to facilitate reach.

Minimize the use of bouncy seats, exercise saucers, and other positioning equipment. Save your money! Good old-fashioned floor time is much more developmentally appropriate for your child. If you need somewhere to put your mobile infant while you are busy, use a portable play pen.

Daily Tummy Time Sessions

Start with 2-3 minutes each time your newborn baby is awake. Try to pick the time your baby is in the best mood. For some, this will be right after waking up, for others it may be right after being fed. Work up to 20-30 minutes at least three times per day.

Enjoy this precious time in your child’s life!