What “Tummy Time” Actually Means

What “Tummy Time” Actually Means

I’ll let you in on a secret: I hate the phrase “tummy time.”

Why? Because it implies that it’s five minutes where we put the baby on the tummy, and then the baby starts screaming and getting mad, and then the timer goes off, and tummy time is done.

That is not what pediatricians mean by tummy time. Don’t get me wrong—tummy time is incredibly important, but we have to understand what it actually means.

So What Does It Mean?

In short, tummy time is any time where the baby isn’t resting on the back of their head. It doesn’t refer to a specific time of day or period of time—it’s the overall sum of the little minutes throughout the day where the baby isn’t lying on their back, and hopefully those little minutes add up to several hours.

In fact, most parents do tummy time without even realizing it. As parents, we often lay the baby right on our chest and just snuggle with them. Guess what? That’s tummy time!

Why It’s Important

There are a couple of reasons. For one thing, tummy time can be a bonding time between parent and baby. It’s also important for the development of the baby’s core muscles, upper-body strength, and neck muscles. These are the muscles that will help your baby with sitting and crawling, so when you do tummy time now, you’re helping to set up your baby for success later on.

Finally, tummy time is so important because it gives the baby time when they’re not resting on the back of their head. As pediatricians, we recommend exclusively sleeping on the back during the nighttime, since this can help prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or crib-death. But because of this, babies end up spending a large portion of their lives on their back, especially at night when there aren’t other people to watch and hold them.

The head is the heaviest part of the infant’s body. A baby’s head is particularly vulnerable because it allows the brain to grow significantly during the first year of life. But because it’s growing so quickly, the head can also be “molded” easily. Spending too much time on the back during the day can result in a flattening of the back of the head. Although we have ways of helping if this happens (including the baby helmets that many people see), we would rather avoid having a misshapen skull in the first place.

So when someone can be with the baby during the daytime, we want the baby to spend as much time as possible in different positions—like on the belly and on the side.  As babies get older, they’re able to sit up with support, around four months of age, and then the tummy time happens more naturally, without parents thinking about it so much. But by then, many babies have already had a lot of flattening that is difficult to correct. Tummy time really helps avoid this flattening in the first place.

For more information on the web, read this article from healthychildren.org and check out these ways to mix up tummy time. If you have questions or would like to discuss any concerns you have regarding your baby’s development, you can schedule an appointment with me, Dr. Kathryn Mandal, by calling 817-617-8600 or scheduling online at continuumtx.com.