Couples who attend my prenatal classes have lots and lots of questions about sleep for the baby. And I am very happy to answer those questions because babies spend a lot of time sleeping. And it is very important to understand how babies must spend their time when they are asleep and when they are not.
Most of these expecting parents have heard that babies must always be put to sleep on their backs. And they are happy to do that because it seems like the most natural thing to do.
What confuses them is the concept of ‘tummy time’ where they are expected to place their baby on the abdomen. And this seems to be the exact opposite of the previous recommendation.
To understand this difference, it is important to differentiate between sleep time and awake time for the baby
What is Tummy Time?
Tummy time is placing your baby on her/his abdomen to play when your baby is awake and is under your supervision.
Why is tummy time important?
Tummy time is important because it is now recognised that babies who spend too much time lying on their backs can develop complications like developmental delays, cognitive delays, delays in the development of organizational skills, eye-tracking problems, and behavioral issues.
When babies lie on their tummies they have better muscle development in the neck and shoulders. This helps build the muscles needed to roll over, sit and crawl.
Spending time on their tummies also ensures that babies do not develop a tight neck and flat areas on the back of the head
Is it safe to place babies on their tummies?
Keep the following things in mind while practicing tummy time to keep your baby safe
- Place your baby on the tummy only when she/he is fully awake and alert.
- Do not leave your baby in this position and walk away or fall asleep. Stay alert and observant during tummy time.
- Make sure you never allow your baby to fall asleep on the tummy. This may increase the chances of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
When should you start tummy time?
You must begin tummy time for your baby as soon as you bring your baby home from hospital as a newborn.
Start with 1-2 minutes.
Do it after every nap, diaper change and feed.
What is the best way to practice tummy time?
During each diaper change and after every feed – place your baby on her/his tummy.
Lie down on your tummy such that you are face to face with the baby.
Now engage with the baby while talking and playing.
Encourage your baby to look up, down, left or right to find your face and engage with you.
What will you observe as your baby grows?
The newborn baby will lie with the head turned to one side, the pelvis high and the knees drawn up under the abdomen.
By 12 weeks your baby will be able to hold the chin and shoulders off the bed with the legs fully extended.
By 24 weeks your baby will be able to keep the chest and upper abdomen off the bed while holding her/himself on the hands with extended elbows.
After this she/he will learn to turn over and crawl
Tummy time is essential. Make it fun time and bonding time!!
Dr. Debmita Dutta MBBS, MD
Dr. Debmita Dutta is a practicing doctor, a parenting consultant and the founder of the website WPA whatparentsask.com – She is based in Bangalore and conducts Parenting workshops at schools and corporate organizations. She also conducts prenatal classes for expecting parents and infant care classes for new parents.