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Newborn & baby health centre

Tummy time

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Babies spend a lot of time on their backs. No matter how fascinating baby gyms and mobiles are, spending time on their tummies is important too. It builds muscles and helps with their development.

With the success of the Back to Sleep campaign which recommends that babies always be put to sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS, also known as cot death), babies don't spend as much time on their fronts as they used to.

"It is recognised that whilst the Back to Sleep campaign has dramatically reduced the incidence of cot death, it has resulted in an increase in cases of plagiocephaly (flattened head) and of developmental delay," says Kathie Drinan, chartered physiotherapist and clinical specialist in paediatric neurology.

So when baby is awake tummy time helps their head develop its round shape rather than having flat spots.

Develops muscles

Lying on their front encourages them to lift their head, which strengthens the neck and upper back muscles. Babies learn to support their head and hold it steady when they are moved.

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, author of BabyCalm says time spent on their backs when awake "doesn't allow them to strengthen their necks or core muscles that are so necessary for unaided sitting and crawling".

Babies who don't get enough time on their stomachs may be slower to reach milestones such as turning themselves over, sitting up or crawling.

"Giving babies supervised tummy time helps to strengthen their backs, arms and necks; it encourages them to roll over and gives them a different view of the world," says Elizabeth Duff senior policy adviser at the National Childbirth Trust (NCT).

What age to start tummy time?

Tummy time can start really young and the earlier you start the more your baby gets used to it.

You may want to delay for the first few weeks after birth so that your baby's umbilical cord stump has fallen off so it doesn't irritate them.
When they are tiny you don't even have to stick them on a rug or blanket at ground level. "Babies laying on your chest and tummy when they are awake is also 'tummy time’, they don't have to be put down alone on the floor!" says Sarah.

The Association of Paediatric Chartered Physiotherapists (APCP) and the NCT recommends that babies are placed on their tummy for short periods several times a day.

Tummy time should always be carried out when the baby is awake, alert and happy. Gradually build up the amount of time your baby spends on his tummy. Always keep an eye on your baby and be careful of draughts and pets spoiling your baby's enjoyment of tummy time on the floor.

You can put your baby on your lap in a front-down position or in your arms as well as the option of putting them on the floor on a baby blanket. The younger they are the less control they have but with time they'll be lifting their head and looking at things from a different angle. When your baby is 3 or 4 months old they should be able to hold their head up and push onto their forearms.

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