The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all infants be exposed to tummy time on a daily basis to prevent flat spots from forming on an infant’s head and to promote growth and development. Most parents know that they need to be exposing their baby to tummy time every day, but how can parents carry this out if their infant resists the position?
A recent research study reveals that 50 per cent of parents report that their infants do not tolerate being positioned on the stomach for play. This is because a baby who has not been exposed to tummy time on a regular basis is not familiar with the position, and limited exposure to tummy time leads to weakness with head, trunk and upper extremity control. Limited strength in these muscles can make tummy time quite uncomfortable for baby.
Fortunately, there are ways to introduce tummy time to an infant that make the experience tolerable for baby, as well as mom and dad. In fact, it can be a pleasant experience that provides a wonderful opportunity to bond with baby. First of all, tummy time does not always have to take place on the floor. Parents should be aware that tummy time can be implemented in a variety of ways, such as placing the baby on a caregiver’s chest when the caregiver is in a reclined position, placing baby on the caregiver’s lap, holding and carrying the infant in a belly down position, and burping the baby in a prone position across the caregiver’s lap.
Be aware that baby may not tolerate tummy time at first, but the time can gradually be increased as tolerance increases. In fact, parents can begin by exposing baby to tummy time for only 15 to 20 seconds for the first session. Adding 10 to 15 seconds each additional session is the perfect way to build baby’s tolerance for tummy time. Additionally, parents should find creative ways to motivate baby to stay in the position, such as getting at the infant’s eye level and communicating by making faces, singing, talking, etc. Items such as a ‘baby safe’ mirror and colorful toys can also be positioned at the infant’s eye level to provide a distraction. It is also important for caregivers to understand that in order to foster infant physical development and prevent flat spots on the head, time in car seats, carriers and equipment should be minimized.
Here are several tips that should make tummy time a pleasurable experience for baby as well as parents:
Bolster time – Roll a small towel or receiving blanket into the shape of a bolster. Position baby’s arms over the roll with their hands reaching out in front of the roll. This will help your child hold up their head and better maintain the position. As baby grows and has improved head control, you can also use a commercially available nursing pillow, such as a Boppy, for tummy time support.
Provide motivation – Get down on baby’s level so that they can see your face and make faces, sing or talk to baby in animated tones.
Distract baby – Place a ‘baby safe’ mirror just in front of baby so that they can see their own face during tummy time. You can also use colorful toys or shake a rattle. Change the distracters frequently and it’s likely that baby will tolerate the position for longer periods.
Be flexible – Remember, you can position baby on your chest or across your lap for tummy time. This works the neck, trunk and arm muscles, and baby may better tolerate this approach because they’re closer to you.
Plan tummy time – It’s best to only try tummy time when your baby is rested, comfortable, feeling good and has not just eaten. Attempt to develop and follow a regular schedule for tummy time, such as immediately after diaper changes, naps or bath time.
Dr. Anne Zachry is a pediatric occupational therapist and mother of three. She has a PhD in Educational Psychology, with the research for her doctorate being related to tummy time and infant mobility.
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