Parents are overwhelmed with information from various media platforms on how to maximise their baby’s development. Oftentimes they are met with conflicting information from these platforms and they are left more confused than before. One of the most confusing data is whether to position their babies on their backs or tummies. Surprisingly, both positions are good for your baby at various stages and for different purposes.
For long, experts have been advocating the importance of putting babies on their backs, particularly when they are asleep. This is to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), also known as crib or cot death. However, the time spent for a baby on their back should be reduced when they are awake. Babies who spend a lot of time on their back may develop abnormalities in the shape of their head like brachycephaly (symmetrical flat head) and plagiocephaly (head flat on one side). The flattening of the head occurs because of the soft nature of the baby’s skull. Research shows that brachycephaly and plagiocephaly may lead to developmental delays in the future if it does not resolve. Consequently, babies who spent more time on their backs are shown to develop gross motor skills more slowly. This is because a baby can only learn a few skills in this position.
As Jeffrey Goldstein states in her article about play in children’s development, “Play is the lens through which children experience their world and the world of others.” Babies need to explore their environment during play in various positions for learning to occur and for their development. This is the reason they need to be placed in various positions.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends tummy time as the best form of physical activity for infants less than one year.
The Benefits of Tummy Time
- Builds neck and back muscles to improve head control in this position and in upright postures.
- Builds muscles of the arms. As muscles get stronger the baby will now start to prop themselves onto their arms and learn to shift their body. This position is called puppy prone and it is important for the development of crawling.
- Learn to roll into different directions.
- When the baby moves and shifts their body, they gain a sense of body awareness or proprioception.
- Putting the baby in various positions helps with the development of balance and movement (vestibular sense).
- Helps develop eye and hand coordination.
- Improves visual tracking.
When to Start Tummy Time?
Tummy time can start as soon as possible after birth when the baby arrives at home. However, you should ease your baby into tummy time. Start with two or three sessions of tummy time each day. The baby should be on their tummy for about one to two minutes at a time. Overall, the baby should spend less than ten minutes each day on their tummy at the beginning. The time spent on their tummy should be gradually increased, working towards thirty minutes to an hour a day in total as the baby’s physical endurance improves.
Tips for Initiating Tummy Time and To Help Your Baby Enjoy It
- Massage the baby’s back using baby oil or any natural unscented oil that is approved for infant use. Even if the baby does not enjoy tummy time, they will surely enjoy the massage as they will focus on it.
- Lay on your back and put your baby on your chest facing you. You can play with your baby in this position and they will make eye contact with you. This is a wonderful way to bond with your baby.
- Once the baby is strong enough, lay them on the mat and put some age-appropriate toys in front of them so that they can reach and play with the toys. Or place a rolled towel or blanket across their chest so that they assume a puppy prone position.
- Lay on the floor alongside your baby is on their tummy. Play, talk or sing with them while in this position.
Do not put your baby on their tummy after they have eaten. Always spend time with your baby when they are on their tummy. Do not leave them alone as they will notice this and start crying. And often the parent will pick up the baby quickly to ease them. This is one of the reasons why parents may think that their baby does not enjoy tummy time.
Remember that every bit of tummy time helps. Do not get discouraged!
- Goldstein, J. (2012). Play in children’s development, health, and well-being. Brussels: Toy Industries of Europe.
- Hewitt, L., Kerr, E., Stanley, R. M., & Okely, A. D. (2020). “Tummy Time and Infant Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review.
- World Health Organization. (2019). New WHO guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and sleep for children under 5 years of age.