Tummy Time and Your Baby


Children's Hospital Los Angeles RN Remedies Gloria Verret

One of the great benefits to working as a pediatric nurse at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is learning from colleagues from other disciplines in hospital. For example, I am co-teaching a class at CHLA for parents on how to care for a child who has a g-tube (gastrostomy tube). An occupational therapist who is also co-teaching the class, talked about her discipline’s role in helping these children get the nutrition they need as well as how to promote oral feeding if possible. She explained the importance of tummy time for the development of the baby, along with other great tips on feeding and children who don’t eat normally.

A trip down memory lane with my own daughter and tummy time

When I heard the presentation, I knew it was important and couldn’t wait to share. Many of my blogs feature my daughter, and so I started thinking back to when she was an infant. I remember hearing of the connection between putting babies to sleep on their tummies and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). I was not a nurse at the time and don’t remember it being called “back to sleep,” but I do remember putting her to sleep on her back for that reason. After my colleague’s presentation, I called my daughter and apologized that I did not know about tummy time and can’t remember putting her on her tummy. In fact, I think I held her for the first year nearly all the time! She is a kind girl and replied, “It’s OK mommy, I think you gave me lots of love and that counts for more than tummy time.”

What is tummy time?Tummy Time and Your Baby

With the “back to sleep” movement to prevent sudden infant death syndrome, another movement came out that some call “prone to play.” The idea is that putting babies on their tummy for some time every day during wakeful hours helps them grow stronger and prevents some problems such as flattening of the head due to the softness of the baby skull and various spinal problems.

CHLA Occupational Therapist Janae Grimshaw and other experts confirm the importance of tummy time. New parents can start tummy time as soon as their baby is born in a skin-to-skin or kangaroo care position. Kangaroo care is when the baby is held in direct contact to the skin on the chest of mom or dad. The kangaroo care position:

  • Promotes bonding and early feeding skills
  • Strengthens neck and back muscles, because a baby will push up to look at their mom or dad
  • Helps develop early visual skills
  • Calms infants, because they can hear mom and dad’s heart beating, breath and voice

A baby can spend tummy time on the lap of the parent as well. In this way, the umbilical stump can be protected and baby held securely. Babies should be supervised while on their tummy, they should be comfortable and toys should be age-appropriate. If the baby gets fussy, he or she should be picked up and the position changed.

Tummy time helps with developmentTummy Time and Your Baby

When babies are on their tummies, they can push up and kick which helps strengthen their neck, shoulder muscles, back, arms, hands, respiratory system (breathing system) and builds endurance for more activities.

As babies practice looking up, down and side-to-side in this position, they are also developing their sensory systems, which help them respond to different types of stimulation in the world around them. For example, it will help with their balance and coordination and their ability to look up and down at a classroom chalkboard. During tummy time, babies will also start to rock back and forth and kick their legs. These motions foster development of fine and gross motor skills.

Expert support of tummy time

The Mayo Clinic website supports the importance of awake, interactive and supervised tummy time.  One research group reported that the prone to play position has been found to help in the development of three specific milestones in babies:

  1. Rolling
  2. Crawling on the stomach and all fours
  3. Sitting

Another study on spinal abnormalities noted that SIDS has gone down dramatically since the “back to sleep” campaign and that babies are now six times safer. The study concluded that tummy time during waking hours helps the muscles around the spine gain strength.

Since “back to sleep” has been implemented, doctors have seen an increase in flattening of the heads of babies, called plagiocephaly, as well as some spinal problems. The flattening of a baby’s head can be prevented by changing the head position of the sleeping baby, and also by doing tummy time. They suggest five or more minutes a day by the time the baby is 6 weeks old. Exact time is not as important as doing tummy time every day, or twice a day, for as long as the baby is awake and enjoying the time.

Other authors note that the head and neck strength that a baby gains from tummy time also helps prevent SIDS because the baby can move better. Additionally, a baby will be able to see the world from a different vantage point, and by placing toys within reach, the baby is stimulated.

Tummy time, back to sleep and prone to play efforts are an effective way to keep your baby strong and safe and help them develop. Please share this blog post with expecting parents and parents of newborns and infants!

G-tube classes at CHLA

Attend a G-tube class at CHLA featuring information from our specialists in nutrition, occupational therapy and child life and learn about how to care for the tube and do hands on practice with our nursing experts. Every Friday, English class at 10 a.m. and Spanish class at 1 p.m. Sign up with your child's nurse or in the clinic or call the Family Resource Center 323-361-7698.