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Why your baby needs tummy time

Baby crawlingBY AMBER SMITH

The American Academy of Pediatrics says babies need to be placed to sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome during the first year of life. But daily supervised play time while on their tummies is recommended for developmental reasons.

“You really want to start tummy time as soon as the baby is born, as long as they‘re medically stable,” says Erin Wentz, PhD, an assistant professor of physical therapy at Upstate.

“Early tummy time can be done on the parent‘s chest because the baby is most familiar and most comfortable around their parent. By placing them on their chest, the baby can smell their parent, they can hear their parent, and when they lift their head up, they‘re close enough to see their parent.”

Wentz says this supervised time is important for babies to help strengthen their neck and trunk but also to stimulate exploration.

If you put your baby on his tummy and he sees a rattle lying on the floor nearby, he will naturally want to figure out what to do with his body in order to obtain the rattle.

“That is developing their cognitive abilities. They are problem-solving. They‘re learning to persevere and stick with a task until they achieve it,” Wentz explains. “Once they obtain the rattle, then they want to talk about it — in their own way, of course — but they want to interact with those whom they are most familiar with. So that promotes not only their language development but their social development.”

Wentz is leading a study to determine the best daily cumulative amount of “tummy time” and seeks full-term newborns up to 8 weeks of age to participate. Families are placed into one of three categories: 0 to 30 minutes, 31 to 60 minutes, or 61 minutes or more.

“We ask the families to do their best to accumulate that much tummy time per day until the baby can transition in and out of sitting.”

The study continues with monthly home visits by Wentz until the baby reaches 18 months of age. “We want to compare the developmental curves from each of these groups, and that way we can get a better idea of how much tummy time we should be recommending.”

To learn more about the study, send Wentz an email at wentze@upstate.edu.

What is tummy time?


Tummy time is the deliberate placement of babies on their tummies for exercise and developmental reasons while they are awake. It should always be supervised. An Upstate researcher is trying to determine how much tummy time is best — and she is conducting a study that you can join.

Upstate Health magazine spring 2018 coverHealthLink on Air logoThis article appears in the spring 2018 issue of Upstate Health magazine. Click here for a radio/podcast interview with Wentz about the idea of tummy time.
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