Tummy time for tots

Physios say playtime on tummy is good for babies’ physical development

Many parents could be holding back their babies’ growth and development by not placing them on their tummies during waking hours, warn paediatric chartered physiotherapists.

Statistics show 19 per cent of mothers with children under 6 months old never put their babies on their fronts to play and only 22 per cent regularly give their babies tummy time (1).

The Association of Paediatric Chartered Physiotherapists (APCP) is calling on more mothers to give their babies the best start in life by placing them on their tummies more often when they are awake to optimise growth and movement development.

Peta Smith, Vice Chair of the Association of Paediatric Chartered Physiotherapists (APCP), says: ‘Since the Department of Health recommended healthy babies should sleep on their backs, physiotherapists have noticed a drop in babies placed on their tummies to play during their waking hours. This can result in a delay in acquiring movement skills.

‘Research shows babies placed on their backs to sleep who were then placed on their front for extra time during the day were able to roll, crawl, sit, pull to stand and eventually walk earlier than those who were mainly placed on their backs.’

Although babies predominantly placed on their backs eventually catch up in their development skills, paediatric physiotherapists say the first few months of life are an important time for babies to start to become aware of their bodies and begin to learn movement.

Peta says: ‘By spending time on their tummies babies learn to move from side to side and this helps them learn to reach and crawl. Not only does tummy time help with coordination, balance and postural control, which is the foundation for all movement skills, it increases babies’ confidence and independence helping them to become motivated to explore their surroundings as they learn to control their bodies.’

Tummy time is an important sequence in baby development. It helps with coordination, balance and postural control, which is the foundation for all movement skills.
Paediatric physiotherapists say placing babies predominantly on their backs during waking hours means they can miss out on some important aspects of movement development. They do not have the opportunity to lift their heads against gravity to explore their immediate environment; experience a delay in learning to take weight on their arms; and often develop intolerance to tummy time. Physiotherapists are urging parents to make tummy time part of a baby’s daily routine and limit their time spent in baby seats, carriers and swings.

Joyce Epstein, Director at the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths, says: ‘We support the work paediatric physiotherapists are doing in this important area. Babies who do not sleep on the back have a nine times increased risk of cot death. However, when babies are awake they should spend time on their tummies  – not always flat on the back. This aids their healthy development.’

(1) Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSID)

CSP Press office June 2006

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