SIDS deaths have decreased dramatically since the beginning of the “Back to Sleep” campaign, and this is a great thing! But unfortunately, the campaign has also reduced the amount of time babies are spending on their tummies. Experts say that, while back sleeping is important for your infant’s safety, tummy time is important for development and it should be part of your baby’s daily routine.
Tanya Altmann, M.D., a pediatrician in California says,
“Not only do babies need to learn how to support their heads when they are still, they also need to be able to turn their head in response to what’s happening around them, and hold their heads steady when they are moved. As with other milestones, they develop these skills through practice.”
But more than just the head and neck muscles are developed during tummy time. Infants exercise and develop all of their muscles during this important time on the floor. Tummy time encourages your baby to roll over, crawl and sit up by offering them a time to explore and learn how their bodies work.
Tummy time is also great for the shape of your baby’s head. According to doctors, more and more infants are being seen with flat spots on the back of their heads. This is from spending too much time on their backs. Tummy time can help to even out the shaping of your baby’s head and prevent the development of a flat spot.
But how early should you start? According to the experts, you can start your infant on tummy time as soon as their umbilical cord falls off – just a few weeks after birth. Chris Tolcher, M.D., FAAP, professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California School of Medicine says, at the very latest, your infant should start tummy time by one month of age.
Dr. Laura Jana, M.D., Nebraska pediatrician and co-author of Heading Home with Your Newborn says that there are some added benefits to starting earlier instead of later. “I’m also a big believer that the sooner you start, the more accepting babies are and the more it is just accepted as a natural position,” says Jana, M.D.
Of course, there is still the issue of when to place your baby on their tummy. According to professionals and the American Academy of Pediatrics, you should never lay your infant on their tummy if they are sleeping or unsupervised. If, however, you are in the room and they are awake, you can lay your baby on their tummy, as tolerated.
According to Scott Cohen, M.D. FAAP, attending physician at Cedars Sinai Medical Center and pediatrician says the amount of time doesn’t matter but that you should “offer tummy time at least once per day.” Tummy time doesn’t have to be boring either. The experts gave some tips on how you can make tummy time fun for both you and baby.
Tummy time can be time lying down with baby chest to chest. This is especially great for babies that are still really young. You can also lay on the floor with baby and place your head above theirs and sing songs or talk to them, encouraging them to look for your face. If you make tummy time a bonding, fun or silly time, your baby will start to look forward to their tummy time ritual, and so will you.
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