With all the emphasis on placing an infant on their back, it is easy to forget the importance of tummy time. Tummy time is just that – time an infant spends on their stomach when awake and supervised.
Placing an infant on their tummy helps them to develop head, neck and shoulder strength and prepare them for other child developmental milestones as they begin to coordinate their arms and legs to begin to crawl. Through our Early Intervention work, our teli physical therapists help parents work through when and how to help an infant build their strength on their way to important developmental milestones.
An infant can turn their head even when they are a few days old to clear their nose and mouth. By 2 months of age they should be able to lift their head to a 45-degree angle from a flat surface. An infant’s ability to lift their head eventually to 90 degrees by 3 months is key to their physical development as well as enabling them to begin to visually scan and track their environment. By 4-6 months, they should begin to prop themselves up on their forearms and begin to pivot when on their stomach, pushing up with their hands.
Tummy time is important to help a child begin to develop head control and motor skills. Lifting their head against gravity helps them to strengthen their neck and back muscles as well as their shoulder and arm muscles as they begin to push against a flat surface.
Tummy time helps to build a foundation for other skills as an infant develops proper alignment of the spine and the postural control needed for sitting, crawling, and walking. It is also an opportunity to practice visual tracking which is when a child moves their eyes in a coordinated manner as they turn their head. Additionally, too much time on their back may cause the head to become flat and deformed.
At first, an infant may not like to be on their tummy but with supports such as a rolled-up towel under their chest or laying them across your lap, they will become more comfortable as they gain strength. Here are some recommendations for tummy time activities that can become part of your normal family routine.