Tummy Time – an Important Child Developmental Milestone

By: Jeannine Moyer, teli Physical Therapist

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.

tummy time for child development

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.

Tummy time – what should I look for in my child?

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.

Why is tummy time so important?

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.

How can I play with my child to encourage tummy time?

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.

  • After each diaper change, have a session of 10 minutes of tummy time. A fun interaction for parent and child might be to lay your baby on your chest to have face-to-face time.
  • Try holding them in “superman” pose, or across your lap, spreading your legs to support under their chest and legs.
  • Provide some form of stimulation such as their favorite toy, placed just out of reach, so that they have to extend just enough to grab the toy.

Early Intervention Services can help your child achieve the developmental milestones to enable them to reach their full potential. If you have questions, call teli at 412-922-8322.