Why you need to get parents to focus on tummy time
‘What can we do to help at home?’ is a common question I hear in the practice. And to many parents’ surprise, when it comes to babies it is really simple: Focus on tummy time!
Tummy time is the number one activity, an absolutely essential for baby’s future health and development.
- stimulates brain development and connectivity
- strengthens and coordinates muscles
- integrates primitive reflexes
- promotes gross motor development such as rolling, sitting, crawling and walking
- develops spinal curves
- stimulates digestion
- encourages eye function for vision, tracking and coordination
- improves capacity for learning and concentration later in life
- helps prevent plagiocephaly
That is a lot of benefits to gain from one simple activity.
The initial flexed spinal and limb posture of a baby have to go through significant development to end up as a strong and coordinated bipedal, thinking and connecting human being. Developmentally, this happens through the interplay between the developing brain and the control, coordination, flexibility, tone and strength of the muscles of the spine and body.
The prone position requires muscle contraction of the spinal extensors, which stimulates the cerebellum and thereby the rest of the brain. Lifting the head fires the upper cervical proprioceptors, stimulating the brain as well as causing contraction of the core muscles. The more physical/movement stimulation the brain receives, the faster and better it will develop.
Research shows children who spend more time on their bellies achieve their early gross motor milestones earlier (1). Studies have also shown that children who reach their milestones early tend to ‘perform’ better later in life (2). Primitive reflexes are brain stem movements, and integration of these depend on developing coordinated voluntary movements and postural reflexes. These are midbrain and cortical functions and essential for future success with regards to learning, attention and behaviour (3). So the prone position stimulates the higher centres in the brain by encouraging repeated movement patterns requiring strength and coordination. The prone position also facilitates ‘accidental’ movements, like rolling, and sets the baby up for cross-pattern movements: commando crawling and 4 point crawling, as well as walking.
The gentle pressure on the abdominal organs from the prone position will stimulate and ‘massage’ them, encouraging movement and release of wind. Plagiocephaly (flat head) has been shown repeatedly to be prevented and improved by increasing tummy time (1). The prone position also provides a totally different visual perspective of the world, helps discovering the hands for hand-eye coordination and promotes converging/diverging eye coordination with the change in head position.
The muscle tone required for upright posture has to be developed through body movement and core muscle strength. Put yourself in a baby’s position and imagine yourself lying on your back and moving your arms and legs. Compare the effort of doing this to moving your limbs and head while lying on your tummy. Tummy time is much harder! With today’s epidemic of sitting, tech neck and poor posture and the associated health issues of poor breathing capacity, changes in hormone production, blood pressure problems, mood challenges and concentration difficulties (4) it is so important to help families get off to a good start. Next month I will show you some fun ways for parents and babies to enjoy more tummy time.
- The Influence of Wakeful Prone Positioning on Motor Development During the Early Life. Kyu, J Dev Behavl Pedia. 2008 Oct
- Infant motor development is associated with adult cognitive categorisation in a longitudinal birth cohort study. Murray, J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2006 Jan
- Primitive Reflexes and their Relationship to Delayed Cortical Maturation, Underconnectivity and Functional Disconnection in Childhood Neurobehavioral Disorders Robert Melillo 2011
- Switched-on Kids – The natural way for children to be their best Dorte Bladt 2016