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Baby’s first workout ─ tummy time

Published in Child Advocacy Services, For the Health of It Author: Tracy Arduser, PT, Coordinator

We see a lot of babies at Outpatient Rehabilitation Services with flat spots on their heads. Some are caught early enough that only a few appointments are needed to assess the baby and help parents with repositioning ideas. Unfortunately, some children need more extensive services.

Made of soft movable plates, a baby's head can develop flat spots if left in the same position for too long. While it's recommended that babies sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), tummy time is essential to help reduce the risk of flat spots.

Tummy time also can help babies develop strong head, neck and shoulder muscles and promote certain motor skills. Research suggests that babies who spend time on their tummies crawl on their stomachs earlier than do babies who don't practice tummy time. The more time babies spend on their tummies, the earlier they might begin to roll over, crawl on their stomachs, crawl on all fours and sit without support.

Introducing tummy time

  • Start by laying your newborn on his or her tummy across your lap two or three times a day for a few minutes.
  • As your baby grows stronger, place him or her on a blanket on the floor after a diaper change or nap. Arrange age-appropriate toys within his or her reach.
  • As your baby gets used to tummy time, place your baby on his or her tummy more frequently and for longer periods of time.

Never leave your baby unattended during tummy time. Aim for about 20 minutes of tummy time a day. If your baby becomes fussy or sleepy during tummy time, change his or her activity or place your baby to sleep on his or her back in the crib.

Tips to prevent flat spots on baby’s head

  • Limit time spent in a car seat, bouncy seat, swing, etc.
  • Include tummy time during awake play.
  • Place your baby at an angle to “the action” so he/she must turn his/her head to see what is going on.
  • Encourage your baby to watch you or a toy move from side to side.
  • Use a Boppy pillow or Bumbo chair (under direct supervision) once they are strong enough to hold their head on their own — typically at around 4 months. 
  • Alternate your baby’s head position in the crib each night.