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Health Team

Doctors: Babies need tummy time

Posted May 1, 2008 4:32 p.m. EDT
Updated May 1, 2008 11:30 p.m. EDT

— 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.