Tummy Time Helps Baby’s Development by Lori Grisez, PT, DPT
Keeping baby confined to carriers or equipment can result in delays.
While it’s tempting and convenient to have baby at arm’s length in a variety of swings, bouncy chairs, rockers, strollers or their car seat, keeping baby harnessed into a device can lead to what experts are starting to call “container baby syndrome.”
Equipment or carriers can include everything from swings and packs to nursing pillows, highchairs and car seats. Most of these carriers are advertised as safe and effective ways to care for baby. They often boast the ability to ensure the baby’s security while mom is busy, and some even help parents transport baby from one place to the next.
But babies need time to stretch, move, roll and kick around; all under supervision, of course. Because equipment meant to keep baby safely contained can hinder the development of certain motor skills, it’s important to watch for and recognize the signs baby may be developing a problem, especially if baby has:
- Delays in achieving expected motor milestones (rolling, sitting, standing)
- Flat spots on the head due to lack of movement (plagiocephaly)
- Tightness in the neck (torticollis)
Give baby adequate tummy time to ensure proper muscle development and to avoid development of flat spots on the head from being strapped into swings, seats, chairs or carriers. You may be surprised at how quickly baby’s time in various devices adds up—from time spent in a car seat, in a swing, to lying under a toy arch. Particularly pay attention to how much time baby spends on his back versus active playing, stretching and moving around on the stomach.
Not long after the public health campaign “Back to Sleep” launched pediatricians noticed increased incidents of flat spots and neck tightness as more parents were putting their babies on their backs apart from sleep time. Parents were then encouraged to ensure baby was getting enough tummy time.
On their tummy, babies are forced to lift their torso with their arms, lift and turn their head and neck, and move their arms and legs. Place baby on a hard, flat surface and use toys to distract baby from the fact that he’s on his tummy to ensure he is working his muscles.
Encouraging Motor Development and Safety
- At Daycare, Ask Questions and Observe—If your child is in daycare, ask how much tummy time they plan and assist with for babies. It’s also a good idea to ask what activities they have to keep children entertained while on their tummies. When choosing a daycare, always check to see what equipment they have and how many children are in them. Observe if babies are simply rotating in and out of the equipment. If so, look for a facility that is more committed to active tummy time.
- Monitor Baby’s Development—Your pediatric care providers will follow baby’s development closely throughout the first year. Use these visits to express concerns you may have about development as they come up. If you’re not seeing your baby achieve typical developmental milestones, like rolling or sitting, ask if there is anything you should be concerned about or doing differently.
- Promote Safety with Pack and Plays—An easy way to address safety while encouraging mobility is to use a pack and play or a crib for playtime. You can set up the pack and play close to the kitchen and have baby awake playing on their tummy while remaining close by as you prepare a meal. This way, you can ensure baby is still getting that tummy time but they’re not in a place where an older sibling might step on them or where they might crawl away.
Lori Grisez, PT, DPT, is a board-certified pediatric clinical specialist and developmental therapist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital