Tummy time when your baby is awake is the first developmental step up the ladder of learning. Infant and child development occurs in an orderly and predictable sequence of activities that form the foundation for the healthy brain development that underlies all higher levels of learning.

Tummy time is important as it allows infants the opportunity to develop the head control and muscle strength required for later movement. It also allows babies to take advantage of naturally occurring primitive movement reflexes that help them “wriggle” or move forward.

These reflexes are only present for the first few months of life – that’s why it’s essential to give our infants time on their tummies as soon as possible after birth. When babies are on their tummies the spontaneous in-built wriggling movements become learnt skills of coordination and movement. Babies who spend all their time on their backs can’t utilise these in-built reflexes and they end up like frustrated turtles stranded on their backs!

Tummy time does not just mean time spent lying on a rug on the floor. They get the same benefits from resting across your chest, along your arm, over your legs while you relax and watch television or over your shoulder as you walk about the house.

Tummy time is important for many developmental reasons:

  • It stimulates development of vision;
  • It stimulates hand and finger development and sense of touch
  • It avoids misshapen head development that occurs when babies lie for long periods on their backs;
  • It helps form the arch in the foot when the infant pushes his toes onto the floor;
  • And, it is essential for strengthening the muscles of the shoulder, neck, arms and legs that are necessary for crawling (the next important part of a child’s development).

Babies who are given lots of tummy time during the early months of development find out about themselves and their world much more quickly than those who do not. It is tummy time that develops neck, back, arm, leg and eye muscles that will enable them to gain control over their body movements and get themselves moving forward along the developmental trajectory of life.

Encouraging tummy time:

As early as possible, lie baby on her tummy for several short periods of time each day to familiarise her with the position and then extend tummy time as they get stronger. Find ways to encourage them to lift their head and look up:

  • Lie baby on your chest so she can look at your face
  • Lie baby across your legs and stroke down her back;
  • Lie on the floor with her, sing songs and talk to her
  • Place a toy or mirror in front of her
  • Place a small rolled up towel under her chest and arms

Dr Jane Williams is the Research and Education General Manager for Toddler Kindy GymbaROO and Adjunct Senior Lecturer at the JCU School of Nursing, Midwifery & Nutrition.