Many first-time parents are not told about the importance of tummy time for newborns until their children become toddlers with atypical movement patterns, clumsy gait, or motor delay. With our hectic schedules and fast-paced lifestyle, sometimes it is just easier to pick our children up and get going. But, pediatricians and physical therapists will agree, tummy time is an important aspect of infancy to develop the motor skills children need to actively engage in their environment.
How do you know if your baby is spending enough time on her tummy?
By 6 months, these are the things your growing explorer should be able to do:
Reach for nearby toy while on tummy:
Her gradually improved trunk stability, shoulder girdle mobility, and emergent interest in her surroundings allow your baby to briefly prop on one hand and reach with the other for toys.
Raise entire chest:
Now that your child can props on her hands with arms straight, elbow in front of shoulders, she not only can lift her head up, but her trunk as well.
Extend arms and legs (alternately or together) off a surface, and lift head up against gravity with neck elongated:
At 6 months, a baby’s back muscles are strong, but that strength is also balanced by her chest muscles. Because of this, a baby at 6 months can lift up her head against gravity but also tuck her chin. She may be able to perform swimming motions that eventually lead to belly crawling.
Equilibrium reactions in prone:
What this means is that the muscles on the front and back of her trunk can now adapt to changes in her center of gravity. The equilibrium reactions return her to her tummy when she shifts her weight and prevents her from falling over. The more controlled her movements become, the better equipped she is to start scooting after toys.
For a typically developing child, tummy time should be her most preferred position because of the mobility and freedom she experiences in that position. Tummy time is where a child learns to separate her two sides and use them independently of each other. It is an important place to encourage the initiation of belly crawling and eventually crawling.
Red flags – Signs that warrant a physical therapist evaluation:
Remember, every child develops differently. The tummy time skills listed above are the skills pediatricians and physical therapists look for to make sure a child is on track. If your baby isn’t consistently showing these skills by 6 months, keep putting her on her tummy, play with her, and give her a couple weeks’ time. Some babies just need more input to their hands and abdominals before they build up the strength to do all of the above.
However, consider an evaluation if you still notice the following by the 7th month:
- Difficulty lifting her head
- Stiffens her legs with little or no movement
- Does not roll over
- Arches body backwards stiffly in an attempt to roll over, instead of using the abdominals.
- Does not sit independently
- Does not play with her feet when lying on her back
If your baby gets really fussy during any time spent on her stomach, read here for great alternatives to tummy time.