The first year of life is a very important time in a young child’s development. They learn how to survive in their new world by exploring their surroundings. As a parent you can help their brains grow and develop by giving your child as many learning opportunities as possible. One of the most valuable positions for brain development is lying on the stomach, known as tummy time.
Parents were cautioned a few years ago, with the Back to Sleep program, that the best position for the child was on their back, to lower their risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). There seemed to be a shift in thinking, if having the child on their back to sleep was good, then on their back all of the time must be better. Parents should have also been told that tummy time provided vital learning experiences for the brain and that tummy time is safe while the child is awake and there is a parent in the room to keep an eye on them.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that ‘infants who don’t experience early play time on their tummies tend to have early motor delays’. Tummy time helps to develop muscles in the back and neck. As the child grows in strength, they start to lift their head and develop the muscle and coordination to hold the head. It also helps to develop motor control and motor planning as the child learns how to roll, pull them self up on their hands and then crawl. Each of these steps is a developmental process needed to prepare the brain for the next step.
Tummy time also helps develop the visual system, as the child focuses on an object, be it a ball or stuffed animal that they would like to have. They develop movement coordination and planning as they learn how to use their body to get that object. Once the object is in their grasp they learn hand eye coordination by bringing it in to their body, most of the time by bringing it to the mouth, a process that will be used daily when the child learns how to feed itself.
Tummy time can be beneficial for children of all ages, whether they exhibit motor delays or not. For small children, place them on their stomach with a colorful object placed in front of them so they learn how to fix their gaze and use their body to get closer to what they want. For older kids, have them lay on their stomach as they color, do homework or read a story. They can lie on the floor, on their bed or over an exercise ball; as long as they’re getting sensory stimulation on their stomachs.
Remember to challenge your kids brains to help them grow and to maintain you own!