Health Team

Doctors: Babies need tummy time

Posted May 1, 2008

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— Doctors have been telling parents to put newborns to sleep on their backs to prevent sudden-infant death syndrome. However, some babies' developmental problems have spurred a new campaign for more tummy time when babies are awake.

Too much time on their backs can create problems for babies.

"The bones of the skull don't fuse for a number of months to allow the brain to grow, and so, that weight from gravity will tend to flatten the head," said Dr. James Hem, a child development specialist with WakeMed Raleigh.

Getting infants to play on their belly can be a challenge, however, as Liz Mauer experienced with her daughter, Jaden.

"She would cry. She'd bury her face into the mat," Mauer said.

Helm teams with physical therapist Marie Reilly to teach mothers how to make their babies' tummy time more pleasant. The key is to help support the babies at first, the experts said.

"Laying her across my legs and holding her up under her arms, under her elbows seems to be the best solution," Mauer said.

Those moments build up the back and neck muscles, Reilly said. Weaker muscle keeps the head from staying centered and may lead to a flatter side.

"What happens is (that) then the opposite side of the face comes out a little bit, which is because of the forces," Reilly said.

With greater amounts of tummy time, Jaden will soon be crawling and then walking.

Doctors emphasize that tummy time is just for when babies are awake. Infants should still be laid on their backs while they sleep to reduce the risk of SIDS.


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  • Mr. Keeping It Real May 2, 2008

    Oh - sorry but I forgot to include both of my children are off the charts with their development and have beautiful, ROUND heads!

  • Mr. Keeping It Real May 2, 2008

    I have a news flash - a lot of us were TUMMY babies and we're all here! Yes, accidents happen but both of my children slept through the night once turned on their stomach (the last at 4 weeks). Does a child feel secure curled up on your chest on its back? COME ON! There is security in laying on your chest and babies feel that! I think this sleeping-on-the-back deal is hogwash!

  • murdock May 2, 2008

    for tummy time, use the Boppy. it works well.

  • owlady May 2, 2008

    My children (infants) could each lift their little heads up and turn it left or right when on their stomachs at about 2 weeks. We always let them sleep that way because of this, and they slept very well and through the night by about 8 weeks. This was many years ago, before the new "back to sleep campaign".
    I am not convinced this is best, but new parents today probably feel pressured to follow it.

  • caesarrodney1980 May 2, 2008

    My child was born premature and spent a couple of weeks at WakeMed in neonatal intensive care. They kept him on his stomach a large portion of the time and we've had no developmental problems. He started pushing up very early and was crawling long before we expected.

  • ttmccabe May 1, 2008

    I highly recommend anyone who reads this story also read A Reasessement of the SIDS Back To Sleep Campaign by Dr. Ralph Pelligra. Back sleep causes developmental delays regardless of tummy time and that should be reported also.