Tummy time is the cornerstone of gross motor development in my opinion. It has become even more critical with the Back to Sleep campaign and the continued development of bouncy chairs and other carriers that increase convenience for busy parents.
In 2006 the Journal of Pediatrics published study looking at the difference between gross motor development of tummy sleepers and back sleepers and there was found to be a delay in those babies that slept on their back. This delay was eliminated if they received adequate amounts of awake tummy time. (Please hear me, I am not telling you to put your child to sleep on their tummy, only to make sure they are getting lots of awake tummy time.) Pediatrics also published a study looking at the same thing and found that kids who spent more time on their tummy attained gross motor milestones sooner than those who spent less time on their tummy. They found that there was not a difference in what age the child walked though. Pediatric Physical Therapy published a similar study showing that increased tummy time demonstrated a significant difference in gross motor skills at 6 months of age. What is interesting is this report which shows that although a majority of parents are told about positioning their child during sleep, few are told about awake positioning, and if they are, they don’t know why it is important.
These may not seem like a big deal since most of the studies show that children catch up eventually with their gross motor development. My question is what experiences are the children missing out on by being delayed in their early motor development? This is time that they are exploring their environment and their bodies. They begin to develop motor planning skills which will carry over to higher level skill acquisition. It helps them to develop their gluts and trunk extensors, as well as upper extremity strengthening that will help with fine motor control as they get older. Tummy time also decreases the risk of skull deformation or plagiocephaly, as the back of the skull is still forming and is easily influenced by extended pressure due to prolonged time with weight on the back of the head.
Its my personal opinion that more emphasis needs to be placed on educating parents regarding the importance of Tummy Time for their children. In addition, I think more studies need to look at motor development (fine and gross) of older children and compare it to the amount of time spent on their tummy as an infant.