Developmental Benefits of Tummy Time

By Gloria Verret, BSN, RNIII, CPN, nurse blogger at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

Gloria Verret, RN

Gloria Verret, RN

One of the great benefits to working as a pediatric nurse at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is learning from colleagues from other disciplines. For example, I am co-teaching a class at CHLA for parents on how to care for a child who has a g-tube (gastrostomy tube). An occupational therapist, who is also co-teaching the class, talked about her discipline’s role in helping these children get the nutrition they need, and how to promote oral feeding if possible. She explained the importance of tummy time for the development of the baby, along with other great tips on feeding and children who don’t eat normally.

What is tummy time?

With the “back to sleep” movement to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), another movement came out that some call “prone to play.” The idea is that putting babies on their tummies for some time every day during wakeful hours helps them grow stronger and prevents some problems, such as flattening of the head due to the softness of the baby’s skull and various spinal problems.

baby girl in crib with hand to faceCHLA Occupational Therapist Janae Grimshaw and other experts confirm the importance of tummy time. New parents can start tummy time as soon as their baby is born, in a skin-to-skin or kangaroo-care position. Kangaroo care is when the baby is held in direct contact to the skin on the chest of Mom or Dad. The kangaroo-care position:

  • Promotes bonding and early feeding skills;
  • Strengthens neck and back muscles, because a baby will push up to look at Mom or Dad;
  • Helps develop early visual skills; and
  • Calms infants, because they can hear Mom and Dad’s heartbeat, breath and voice.

A baby can spend tummy time on the lap of the parent as well. In this way, the umbilical stump can be protected and the baby held securely. Babies should be supervised while on their tummies, they should be comfortable and toys should be age-appropriate. If the baby gets fussy, he or she should be picked up and the position changed.

Tummy time helps with development

When babies are on their tummies, they can push up and kick, which helps strengthen their necks, shoulder muscles, backs, arms, hands and respiratory systems (breathing systems) and builds endurance for more activities.

As babies practice looking up, down and side-to-side in this position, they are also developing their sensory systems, which help them respond to different types of stimulation in the world around them. For example, it will help with their balance and coordination and their ability to look up and down at a classroom chalkboard. During tummy time, babies will also start to rock back and forth and kick their legs. These motions foster development of fine and gross motor skills.

Tummy time, back to sleep and prone to play efforts are an effective way to keep your baby strong and safe and help them develop.

To read more of Gloria’s pediatric health care tips, visit WeTreatKidsBetter.org.

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