Do Infants Really Need Tummy Time? YES!

New parents are flooded with advice for their new little one.  Sadly, that advice can sometimes be contradictory, confusing and incomplete.  A resounding 90% of new mothers report they are given information on nighttime sleeping position for their new little one.  At the same time, they report little, if any, instruction on daytime positioning.   Infants are growing quickly and proper positioning helps avoid the development of fixed deformities. 

In the early 1990’s, the American Academy of Pediatrics began a push for caregivers to place a baby on his or her back for sleep to help prevent SIDS.  This information has been repeated and is still given to parents and caregivers.  

 However, with little direction on positioning during the waking hours, babies may spend too much time on their back causing their soft skulls to flatten resulting in a misshapen head.  Since the infant does not have full muscle control, the flatter head can make it harder for the baby to change position.  

 It can quickly develop into a cycle leading to head deformity:

·       extended time in the same position leads to flattening,

·       which leads to more difficulty changing positions,

·       which leads to even more time in the same position,

·       which leads to more pronounced flattening, etc.  

 The flattened area can be on the back of the head, or, commonly, the infant will develop a preference for turning to one side causing the head to flatten on only 1 side.  New parents may attribute this to normal behavior and not even notice the head becoming misshapen until it is called to their attention at a wellness exam. 

Many consider the head deformation to be no more than a cosmetic issue.  However, some research suggests sufficient play time in the prone position (on the belly) supports development and the lack of this time may put the infant at risk for a delay in motor skills.  

The adage is “use it or lose it”, but for infants, they must use their muscles in order to develop them.  While much of the deformity issues are resolved with age, some children suffer for a longer time.  Chiropractic care can help improve an infant’s range of motion, helping them change positions more easily and reducing the head deformity.   

The AAP released recommendations in 1996 for parents to vary the infant’s head position during sleep and to give them “tummy time” when awake, even as newborns.  While the advice to have infants sleep on their back was heard loud and clear, this directive did not get the same attention.  Based on the earlier information, some parents fear their baby being in any position other than lying on his or her back.  They did not realize that information was specifically for sleep time – not waking time.

It is commonly accepted that a baby’s environment can have a significant impact on development.  The authors offer a new guideline for parents to give them confidence about how much “tummy time” their child should have.  This time allows for proper development and helps prevent positional head deformation. 

Of course, the time can be divided into smaller time segments during the day.  Play mats for them to look at, toys that they can reach for, or just laying down with them to play helps them get used to the different point of view and enjoy their time. 

At this point, the evidence still says that laying on the back is safest for infants, especially for SIDS prevention.  However, a good variety of positions and “tummy time” during the waking hours will help babies develop properly. 

Your chiropractor can evaluate and monitor your child’s posture as he or she grows.  A chiropractic adjustment is a safe way to promote a healthy spine and proper development.


SOURCE: “What is Tummy Time: Is It Necessary for Newborns?” 
By Joyce Miller, BSc, DC, PhD, and Sharon Vallone, DC, FICCP
Journal of Clinical Chiropractic Pediatrics