The American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) 1994 recommendation that babies be put to sleep on their backs reduced the number of deaths from SIDS; however, it has also reduced the amount of time babies spend on their tummies, which can mean delays in the development of certain motor skills such as learning to push up, roll over, sit up, crawl, and pull to a stand. In addition, an average baby spends approximately 60 waking hours each week in a restrictive container such as a swing, bouncy seat or car seat, which further exacerbates these problems.
When your baby is on his tummy, he has to lift his head and push up on his arms to see anything (when he's on his back, he can see everything simply by turning his head from side to side), strengthening and developing important muscle groups. Spending time on his tummy also encourages your baby to practice reaching and pivoting - skills that are often the precursors to crawling - and promotes trunk stability, limb coordination, and head control.
Motor control develops in a cephalocaudal fashion - meaning a baby gains control of his head first, then his shoulders, then his abdomen, and so on down his body. Developing head control first allows a baby to visually explore his environment, and propping himself up on his arms helps develop the muscles necessary to get into a quadruped, or all-fours, position which is the first step in learning to crawl. It also helps him to develop the pelvic stability needed for standing and walking, and later running and climbing.
According to the AAP, you can begin tummy time as soon as you bring your baby home from the hospital by playing and interacting with your baby on his or her tummy two to three times a day for short intervals. While his neck strength is still limited, he may enjoy lying on your chest so he can raise his head to see your face. As your baby becomes accustomed to the position and enjoys playing this way, and as his neck control and strength increases, you can increase the length of tummy time. By three or four months of age, your baby's neck should be strong enough for greater mobility and control.
Before the AAP recommendations, babies were usually put to sleep on their tummies and were much more familiar and comfortable in that position; but today's baby may find tummy time unfamiliar, awkward, and frightening. If your baby resists being placed on his tummy, try the following tips:
Join in the Fun
Get down on the floor with your baby and keep him company. Your baby has a limited view of the world when he's on his tummy - especially when he's younger and doesn't have the neck or arm strength needed to push up and look around. So join him on the floor and talk to him, shake his rattle, make funny faces, sing or play peek-a-boo. Try lying on your back and placing your baby on his tummy on your chest; he will lift his head and use his arms to try to see your face.
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