Now that infants are put to sleep on their backs to reduce the chance of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), a new activity for parents and infants has been created -- tummy time. Previously, when infants slept on their stomachs, they had plenty of time to squirm and push. This exercise allowed them to develop their muscles that are needed to roll over and crawl. Infants who spend their days going from sleeping on their backs, then into a car seat, then hanging out in a bouncer or a swing, do not get sufficient time to exercise their muscles; thus, the birth of tummy time. Tummy time is a period of time during the day while the infant is awake and supervised that he is placed on his stomach.
For a child who has never been put on his stomach and who spends his whole day on his back or sitting up, being placed face down on his tummy can be frightening and frustrating. He may not like being in a new position and having to work so hard to see around him. The earlier you introduce tummy time the less likely your child will react adversely to being put on his stomach. Tummy time can start any time after the child is born. Starting the first week home from the hospital is absolutely appropriate. It is a misconception that you have to wait until the infant is strong enough to be able to push himself up before it is safe for him to lay on his stomach. As long as the infant is supervised, there is no danger to placing him on his tummy.
Whenever you introduce tummy time, do it slowly. Place the child on his stomach on a soft rug or blanket for about 3-5 minutes at a time. This can be done a couple of times a day. When first initiating tummy time, get down on the floor with your infant in order to make him more comfortable in this new situation. Play and interact with him while he is on the floor. Mirrors and toys that he can lift his head to see will also make hanging out on his stomach more enjoyable. As he gets more accustomed to the position he may enjoy spending more time on his tummy and not need any encouragement from you.
For children who are more adverse to this position, start with shorter periods of time and allow the child to quit before he gets too frustrated and hysterical. If even short periods of time seem too much for him, you can try getting him used to the position while laying on your chest. This allows him to have the comfort of your warmth, scent and proximity while allowing him to get accustomed to being in a new position and using his muscles. Another trick to make tummy time more enjoyable is to prop up your infant's chest with towels or a nursing pillow in order to give him a better view when he lifts his head. For more tips on how to incorporate tummy time into your baby's day checkout this website.
New parents should not be afraid to allow their infants to see the world from a new prospective -- their stomachs. With a little bit of time on their stomachs each day, it won't be long before they are enjoying being able to explore the world on their tummies. For a summary of the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendations regarding tummy time, see their pamphlets "Back to Sleep, Tummy to Play."