.st0{fill:#FFFFFF;}

How Tummy Time Helps 

By: Jake Kreindler, PT
Cuevas MEDEK Exercises Level 3 Specialist

Tummy time is very important. You have probably heard that many times since your baby was born. No doubt your pediatrician mentioned it. You may have done your own research online or heard about it on social media. 

 So why is tummy time so important? How much is enough? What happens if you don’t give my baby enough tummy time?

A short history lesson is in order here. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) used to be a huge problem. In fact, as recent as 1988, about 1 in 1000 babies died in their sleep. While science has not completely figured out the mechanics of why babies die of SIDS, they did know one thing for certain- if we can get babies off their bellies while sleeping, we can reduce the number of SIDS related deaths. Sure enough, in 1994, the US National Institutes of Health initiated the Back to Sleep (now known as Safe to Sleep) Program. Parents are now instructed to sleep their babies on their backs. Since initiating this program, SIDS related deaths have dropped by over 50%!!

It is so wonderful that a program has educated the public and saved numerous lives.

The problem was that the program failed at educating the public of 2 crucial points:

  1. Babies who die of SIDS suffocate in their sleep. Babies cannot die of SIDS while awake.
  2. Babies need a significant amount of tummy time to ensure proper development. Therefore, parents SHOULD provide adequate tummy time when the baby is awake and alert!

Let’s now explore why tummy time is so important. If we look at a baby’s gross motor development (big movement skills such as rolling, sitting, standing, and walking), most require the body to come up against gravity, pushing the back into more and more controlled extension. These skills not only require progressively increasing strength and control, but also exposure and control against gravity! These can only be achieved with the baby lying on his belly. 

Some key examples of skills developed with tummy time:

Lifting up his head by about 2 months and progressively gaining more control until he can lift his head to about 90 degrees by 4 months.

Propping himself up on his forearms and looking around. 

“swimming”, lifting his head, arms, and legs at the same time

starting to pivot, making small circle movements. 

rolling from his belly to back. 

army crawling ( AKA commando crawl).

Crawling on all fours.

Kneeling at surfaces.

Pulling to stand at furniture.

Cruising (walking sideways) at furniture.

Standing alone.

Walking.

In contrast, very few of your baby’s skills are built up by being on his back.

The most significant ones are:

Rolling from back to belly.

Picking up his head and performing a chin tuck.

Reaching for his knees and feet.

As you can see, most gross motor skills in the first 16 months of life require your baby to have a solid foundation of tummy time and the strength, control, and exposure to gravity that goes with it. 

So how much time is enough? If you start when your baby is a month or two old, you can start easily. Make tummy time the default position for your baby! By the time your baby is 4 months old, he should be tolerating up to 20 minutes of tummy time. He will be happy and strong. 

Is your baby older? Generally, it’s not too late, but your baby may cry. Don’t worry. He is not in pain, but he may be frustrated because he may be weak or just fussy from being forced to work a little harder. 

If this is the case, hang in there! Start with 2 or 3 minutes three times a day when your baby is alert, clean, and fed. Add 1 minute each day to those 3 daily tummy times. During dedicated tummy time, 

DO NOT PICK UP YOUR BABY UNLESS HE IS VOMITING!! ( A little cheeky, just don’t pick him up!) Once they get to 20 minutes, most babies are happy because they gain skills and strength needed to explore their environment. 

What happens if your baby doesn’t get enough tummy time? 

Results vary. Some babies will be delayed in their gross motor skills. They will usually be really great at stability positions like sitting, but will be delayed in their movement skills like crawling. Some of these babies will skip traditional crawling altogether and scoot on their bottoms. Many babies will also be delayed in weight bearing skills like pulling to stand, cruising, and walking. 

So start early and be consistent. Remember that you are your baby’s best advocate. Give them the best start in life that you can. Tummy time will set them on the road to gross motor success!

Feel free to reach out to me at [email protected] or on Instagram @getyourbabymoving