The Importance of Tummy Time & Its Effect on Motor Skills Development

CME WebsitesChild Development, Child Routines, Tummy Time

Tummy Time in the First 3 Weeks

We have all heard about the importance of tummy time; increased vestibular input, respiratory benefits, digestive benefits and strength benefits in neck, trunk and arms which result in appropriate gross and fine motor development.

These skills then positively affect everything from sensory processing to crawling and handwriting.  What a lot of us don’t know is that tummy time must be initiated and carried out consistently in the first 3 weeks of life during waking hours.  During these first three weeks of life,  reflexes are present which allow them to clear their heads to breathe and also to breathe against the resistance of the floor.

If initiated during the first 3 weeks, the child is allowed to develop the skills to enjoy this crucial daily activity.  Don’t despair if you’ve missed this window of tummy time during the first three weeks.  Just be sure to give your child plenty of tummy time during their waking hours starting now.

Julia Harper’s View on Decreased Tummy Time

Noted occupational therapist, Julia Harper, MS, OTR/L, presented ‘Decreased Tummy Time & the Effect on Milestone Development in Infants’. Ms. Harper speaks nationwide and provides therapy through her own company called Therapeeds, Inc.

Since the ‘Back to Sleep’ campaign was put in place in the 1994, Ms. Harper states that there have been milestone delays associated with positioning, missed milestones, motor in-coordination and the general feeling that decreased tummy time experiences may be associated with these delays. Federal statistics from 2005 show a 60% increase in developmental delays in the past 10-15 years, 4.6 millions diagnoses of learning disabilities, 4.4 million diagnoses of ADHD and children diagnosed with an Austistic Spectrum Disorder increased from 1 in 1000 to 1 in 150 in 2006 (that number is now as high 1 in 100 according to the CDC in 2009). By citing these diagnoses Ms. Harper is referring to the co-morbid factor (The term comorbid refers to a disease, disorder or that occurs at the same time as another disorder but is not related to it.) of missed or delayed milestones for these children.

Many studies have been completed recently with children ages 0-12 months to determine if increased tummy time is more beneficial than time spent on a child’s back in helping children reach early motor milestones in an age appropriate manner. Clinical findings showed that decreased tummy time was associated with delays in reaching early milestones, time spent on a child’s back does limit development of early motor milestones, tummy time provides advantages over time spent in supine and children who played/slept on their stomach had improved tummy time skills and crawling.

Currently there seem to be unclear guidelines for parents that underscore the importance of tummy time for infants during waking hours. Tummy time while awake does not conflict with the ‘Back to Sleep’ campaign. Parents need to be educated on how to support their child’s early motor development with the use of tummy time positioning strategies.

Parents can ease their babies into tummy time starting as soon as they come home from the hospital. Tummy time does not have to mean lying in the crib or on the floor on a blanket for extended periods. Tummy time can be completed by carrying a child tummy down, by lying on a adult’s chest, etc. The studies that examined positioning for play determined that a minimum of 15 minutes twice a day was all that was necessary to help children achieve these early motor milestones more effectively and in an age appropriate time line.

Sources: Therapeeds, Inc; Julia Harper, MS, OTR/L.