The History of Tummy Time
The American Academy of Pediatrics began recommending tummy time in 1994 after the Back to Sleep campaign recommended that all children from birth to 12 months should be placed in the supine position to sleep. While this campaign reduced the rate of SIDS deaths in infants by half, it also had some negative effects.
As another result of this campaign, there was an increase in infant torticollis as well as plagiocephaly. Torticollis is a rare condition in which the neck muscles contract, causing the head to twist to one side. Symptoms include a limited range of motion and possible head and/or neck pain.
Plagiocephaly develops when a baby spends too much time lying on his or her back. It gives the infant an appearance of having a “flat head.” According to BBC, “US researchers say the rate of flattened head or plagiocephaly has risen significantly since guidance on the safest sleeping position. Between 1999 and 2007 the rate increased nine-fold from three to 29 cases per 10,000 live births in Texas. UK experts say they have also noted a similar trend.”
With this knowledge in mind, the American Academy of Pediatrics changed its campaign. Now, tummy time was advertised alongside the Back to Sleep campaign to avoid torticollis and plagiocephaly.
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Tummy Time and Infant Motor Development
Tummy time benefits an infant’s gross motor development, may help alleviate gas, and can facilitate bowel movements. In a systematic review of 16 articles with over 4,000 participants, tummy time was associated with prevention of brachycephaly and a positive association with social and cognitive domains.
The CDC has outlined developmental milestones from birth to two years old. A two-month-old should be able to turn his or her head towards sounds and follow things with their eyes. By the end of the third month, most babies can hold their heads up while doing tummy time on the ground.
Tummy Time Around The World
A look back throughout history shows a long tradition of baby wearing in almost every culture. It wasn’t until the Victorian Era and the development of the “pram” used by socialites that infants were put down away from the caregiver for transport. The practice stuck and became popular in the western world.
Prior to this time, and in cultures today where babywearing is still a common practice, an infant’s gross motor development (specifically the ability to hold their head up) occurs on average by three months of age. This occurs whether a focus is placed on tummy time or not. The key is frequent change of positions and providing visually stimulating interactions - an engaging mom or dad’s face will work perfectly! In addition to tummy time, baby wearing engages an infant’s spinal muscles and promotes proper development. You can read more details in this study.
Baby Led Tummy Time
Baby led tummy time is a gentler approach to placing infants in the prone position on the floor. By following your infant’s cues and talking to them while they’re on the floor, and then picking them up when they begin to fuss or cry, we can alleviate the stress placed on both parents and infants. This gives them frequent but short bursts of prone practice.
In addition to this, reducing the amount of time your infant spends in a car seat, stroller, or swing will prevent plagiocephaly or “flat-headedness.” Long periods in these positions does not give them ample opportunity to engage their back muscles, which is key for gaining gross motor development and skills. In an argument against tummy time, Irene Lyon, a nervous system specialist, states that learning to roll over or, “the actual act of getting to their tummy from their back (something that takes months!) is what forms their spinal curves – the lumbar, thoracic and cervical – and in turn gives them strength in their back muscles.”
In summary, baby wearing positively impacts infants’ gross motor development alongside tummy time. It should be used more frequently over commercial products like car seats as a carrying method, or swings, and strollers.