A Brief History of Tummy Time
In the early 1990s, the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) “Back to Sleep” campaign recommended that infants should be placed on their backs when sleeping, which was a pivotal success in decreasing the rate of deaths caused by Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Since this campaign, however, a number of studies have highlighted the rise of developmental delays in infants and the flattening of the back of the head known as plagiocephaly. As a result, in 1996, the AAP recommended that infants should also be provided time on their stomachs throughout the day in order to promote developmental benefits and minimize time spent on the back of their head. As pediatric physical therapists and occupational therapists at NYU Langone Medical Center’s Rusk Rehabilitation, we promote the importance and benefits of “tummy time” while working with parents and caregivers to make this important play position for newborns and infants more successful and less stressful.
Why Tummy Time is So Important
Tummy time is the root of many developmental milestones within the first year. When babies are on their bellies, they engage muscles of the neck, arms, back, and hips against gravity in order to hold positions and move in a variety of patterns. Developing these muscles and movement patterns is the foundation for babies being able to lift their heads to visualize their environment, reach for a toy, roll to their sides, push up to a sitting position, sit independently, and eventually crawl. Tummy time also feeds important sensory needs such as vision and body awareness as the baby pushes up with their arms to lift their head and chest off the floor. Your baby continues to develop these skills across their age span and refines them with repeated use.
Tummy time also provides an opportunity to spend time off the back of their heads. Increasing tummy time throughout the day and avoiding too much time in car seats, strollers, swings, or bouncy seats will all help prevent your baby’s head from flattening. Proper positioning in an infant carrier is also a great alternative to the stroller for time off your baby’s head when feasible.
Parents are often unsure about when they should begin to engage their infant in tummy time. First attempts at placing a baby on his or her belly can be overwhelming since a baby’s tolerance is often limited or non-existent. We encourage parents to start placing babies on their bellies when they’re awake as soon as possible after birth. As a general rule of thumb, it is never too early or never too late to start.
These new experiences on the tummy can be perceived by you and your baby as physically demanding. It is only natural for your baby to become upset and want to be moved out of this position. Your baby will often seek emotional and physical support by wanting to be picked up and remain close to a parent or caregiver. While this is important for nurturing and providing your baby comfort, it is equally important for them to explore and play on their tummies with happy parent hands ready to pick them up when a break is needed. You can also use a soothing voice to comfort them.
If you have questions about tummy time, speak with your pediatrician, physical therapist, or an occupational therapist.
Robert Cafaro, MS, OTR/L, has been an occupational therapist for 15 years and has worked in pediatrics across multiple areas (preschools, school districts, home care, inpatient rehabilitation, and outpatient rehabilitation). He graduated with a Bachelor of Science from Gannon University in 2000 and a Master’s in Health Care Policy and Management from Stony Brook University in 2005. Robert is currently the supervisor of the Pediatric Occupational Therapy Department of Rusk Rehabilitation at Hospital for Joint Diseases. He is the father of twin three year old girls who have benefitted from tummy time provided throughout their development.
Megan Strong, PT, DPT, PCS, is a board certified clinical specialist in pediatric physical therapy. She is the supervisor of Pediatric Physical Therapy at NYU Langone Medical Center and received her Doctorate in physical therapy from The University of Scranton. She has close to 10 years’ experience working at Rusk Rehabilitation at NYU Langone Medical Center.
NYU Langone’s Pediatric Rusk Rehabilitation at Hospital for Joint Diseases helps babies, children, and teens with developmental disorders, neurological conditions, and physical injuries reach their full potential. We identify each child’s obstacles and capabilities and develop a treatment plan with the family based on specific, practical goals designed to optimize the child’s physical, cognitive and behavioral functioning.