By Erica Gliga MOT, OTR/L
Tummy time is a foundational time for your infant to be on their tummy while awake.
Why is it important?
While in utero, you might think about how your infant is growing in the fetal position, curled up in what is a flexed position. Tummy time helps the body learn the opposite position, extension, while also stretching out a little bit! It begins to engage the muscles in our back and neck and ultimately support arm and leg movements for motor skill development.
Your infant can spend a lot of time on their backs, especially when sleeping, making it important to have experience and exposure to time spent on their tummies when awake.
Helpful tip to remember: Infants sleep on their backs and play on their tummies
Tummy time encourages head and neck rotation while also taking off the weight of the head itself that occurs when laying in a crib, car seat, your arms, or stroller. Tummy time is important to balance the time spent on the back, which too much of can lead to concerns of a flat head, stiffened neck muscles, or head tilt if there is a side preference.
Tummy time can also support sensory system development. You are truly giving your infant a different perspective of the world when placing them on their tummies! Furthermore, an infant has to establish their relationship with gravity and movement against gravity, such as when they first start to lift their heads up and gain head control. This relationship with gravity is important to develop your infant’s vestibular system that detects movement and positional changes, allowing the body to learn how to respond to movement.
How to get started?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you start tummy time as soon as you can after birth.
Begin tummy time in short increments: a minute or two at a time, a couple of times a day, as your infant tolerates. Your infant must be supervised at all times. When getting started, work towards tummy time on the floor by first placing your infant on your chest. This is also a nice way to promote skin-to-skin bonding with caregivers.
As your infant gains comfortability in tummy time, their tummy time should increase. Continue to offer a couple of daily tummy time opportunities for your infant when they appear alert such as after nap and preferably not right after a feeding with a full belly. Tummy time should become an early part of your infant’s routine.
Lastly, your infant’s visual system continues to develop after birth, making black and white images (high contrast) a great go-to idea to use during the first few months of tummy time.
America, H. C. C., & American Academy of Pediatrics. (2008). Back to sleep, tummy to play. American Academy of Pediatrics.
O’Brien, J. C., Kuhaneck, H., & Ball, B. A. (2020). Case-Smith’s occupational therapy for children and adolescents. Elsevier.