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“Back to Sleep, Tummy to Play”

I’m sure some of you are familiar with this well known campaign. In 1992, the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) came up with the “Back to Sleep” campaign to reduce the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

What is SIDS?

SIDS is defined as the sudden, unexpected, unexplained death of an apparently healthy baby; usually in infants less than 1 year old. We will talk more about safe sleep during our next discussion. This week’s focus would be on tummy time. As promised, we try to be as evidenced based as possible in our articles, so the major reference here is from AAP guidelines.

Putting infants on their back to sleep has significantly reduced the incidence of SIDS in the US. However, other issues cropped up when infants spent the majority of their time on their backs such as delayed gross motor milestones and abnormal head shapes (eg: plagiocephaly a.k.a flat head). Hence, tummy time was introduced and encouraged.

What is tummy time?

Tummy time is a form of physical activity recommended for babies less than 6 months old. It involves your baby being on his/her tummy (prone position) for a range of activities.

Important to note here is that tummy time should be done when baby is awake and should ALWAYS be supervised by parents / caregivers.
Ideally done on a firm surface (eg: a foam play mat), AVOID putting blankets or on slippery materials as there’s risk of suffocation.

Also, would like to emphasize that we’re talking about healthy term babies here. Babies born prematurely and infants with special needs would need to check in with your paediatrician / attending doctor before attempting the activities.

When should we start?

AAP recommends newborns to start tummy time as soon as they come home from hospital. Babies can be placed on your chest for starters. However, I personally started when my babies were at least 6 weeks old. I find that this was more practical developmentally, because by that time, babies should be able to lift their head off the ground momentarily (like few seconds) and because newborns usually just sleep all the time in the 1st month. Also I think it’s more practical for us Asians as postpartum moms do confinement for at least a month and don’t really get up and down to the floor (else risk the wrath of our mums or MILs 🙊 pantang oi!)

How long is tummy time?

Studies have shown that 30 minutes of tummy time in divided sessions in a day is recommended to optimize healthy growth and development. A great time to do so would be after diaper change or when your bub wakes up from nap. But of course this is a recommendation only, so mommas, don’t feel pressured or guilty if you’re unable to follow this.

What are the proven benefits of tummy time?

  • Promotes gross motor development by training babies to lift head (head control) then legs followed by arms to lift themselves off the ground, then crawl and eventually start walking
  • More time spent doing tummy time helps to prevent abnormal head shape, with significant decrease in brachycephaly (a form of flat head syndrome)
  • Allows your little ones to view their surroundings from a different perspective (rather than looking at the ceiling or fan from a supine position all the time)
  • Said to have positive effect on cognition, social development and fine motor skills however no proven significant association found from studies (but I guess it might have an indirect effect to a certain extent through the activities done while on tummy)

What activities can we do while on tummy time?

  • Place yourself or some toys just out of baby’s reach and at their eye level
  • Place a mirror in front of your baby to encourage him/her to lift head up
  • Place toys in a circle around your baby; helps to develop core muscles when they roll over, crawl or move forward on their tummy to reach out to the objects
  • Place baby on your chest while you lie on your back so that your bubs will try to lift their head to see your face (great for bonding)
  • Get down to your little ones’ eye level and try out some funny faces and expressions (great for infants to learn through mimicking and exercise those facial muscles apart from bonding)

And there you have it! All the great benefits of tummy time and some ideas what to do once you’ve got them on their tummies! Best of all, the above interactions can be done easily on the play mat 🙂 Your bubs might not be used to it in the beginning or may only tolerate it for few mins but keep trying slowly. Hope this helps!

Next week’s topic of interest will be on safe sleep!

Till then!

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