Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tummy Time

As I write this blog I hear a little giggle in the next room over. I don't even have to go look, because I already know what is happening. My husband and 13-month old son have this little game where my son lays on his tummy over my large yellow exercise ball while my husband rocks him back-and-forth or slightly bounces the ball up-and-down. I am convinced that my son likes this position because I worked on him tolerating "tummy time" when he was a small baby.

Tummy time is when you lay your baby on his belly. Some babies love this position for play or sleep whereas others don't care for it too much. There are ways to help a baby like this position more. Why even bother you ask? Well, tummy time is a position that helps promote:
  • Good head control to look up and turn the head to either side
  • Less spit-up in a baby with reflux due to the position that the belly is in
  • Arm strength when the baby learns to push up
  • A pre-cursor to learning to roll (3-5 months) and crawl (7-10 months)
  • Visual development and eye tracking
  • A position that might motivate the baby to reach and grasp for toys. This develops fine-motor skills in the hands which is a pre-cursor to writing, cutting, and manipulating utensils to feed yourself.

And the list goes on. One saying is "Back to Sleep and Tummy for Play". It is not recommended to leave a young baby on his tummy while unattended, especially if he can't lift up his head. This is due to the concern that the baby will re-breathe carbon dioxide that he exhales and can suffocate.

My experience with tummy time with my two children was a good one. They both loved it. But for some reason my now 5-year old daughter had to be entertained a bit more than my toddler son did in order to stay on her tummy for over 5 minutes. I bought a tummy-time activity mat, used a Boppy pillow, or got down on the floor to sing or talk to her. Many babies need a little coaxing. Unfortunately, some parents are afraid that their baby is in pain if the baby fusses. Another reason they may not put the baby in this posture is they are afraid the baby will spit up. If waiting 15-30 minutes after a meal this should not be a problem. In fact, it should help with the reflux symptoms after that time frame. A few problems that may exist when a baby really resists tummy time are:

  • tactile (touch) sensitivity: the most sensitive body parts are the face, belly, soles of feet, palms of hands and genitals. Often babies who have developmental delays, born prematurely, have genetic syndromes, or have had medical problems tend to have an over-responsiveness to touch. This issue can be addressed by slowly building up the time the baby stays in tummy time. Also, the baby could lay faced down on your chest as you lay on a bed. Also, the baby could lay over your thigh.
  • vestibular (movement) sensitivity: the vestibular system is the sensory system in charge of movement and balance. Some children do not like their head and body in different positions. Once again, slowly work up to longer time increments. For these babies, start out by having them against your chest as you are slightly reclined. Then, progress to laying flat so that the baby is on his tummy on your chest. Then, advance to putting the baby on the floor, a pillow, or your thigh on his belly. Some may even like to lay over an exercise ball.
  • A baby that has had heart or other surgeries on his chest or abdomen. This sensitivity will diminish once the scar tissue heals.
  • hypotonia (low muscle tone): some babies have floppy muscles, but they still need to be put in tummy time. In order to build up strength, put the baby in tummy time multiple times per day for small amounts of time. Also, these babies may do better if giving them motion input first such as bouncing them on your lap or "swinging" them in the air while supported in your arms.
  • Visual impairment: depending upon the visual impairment, some of those babies might only want to be held upright by an adult or sleeping on their side.

Those are just a few ideas to promote tummy time and give you reasons why it is important! So, go on, go play with your baby while he is in tummy time. You never know, he may grow up to be a teenager who likes to watch TV and play video games while lying on his tummy!

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