Tummy time has become a popular phrase and well-known exercise in the parenting world. It simply involves laying your baby on their tummies while they are awake. This exercise promotes strength and healthy development.
When a baby is born, they have what are called primitive reflexes. Primitive reflexes develop in utero and aid in the birth process. These reflexes are present at birth and become naturally inhibited within the first few months to one year after birth. These primitive reflexes are displayed as muscle flexion motions by their nervous system and allow for basic movement. Examples include palmar and plantar grasp, rooting, suckling, startle, and other spinal cord reflexes. You will see your pediatric chiropractor and pediatrician test these reflexes during an evaluation. As a baby develops, these reflexes will diminish until they go extinct. This is normal.
Tummy time is important because it helps a baby develop their extensor muscles and back postural muscles, which in turn helps with their inhibition of these primitive reflexes. Babies that do not spend enough time on their tummies will often skip or delay steps involved in brain development, which can then lead to poor coordination, delayed language development, an abnormal immune response, and muscle imbalances as a child and adult. Brain imbalances can therefore predispose a child to the development of sensory processing disorders, due to a delay in the expansion of higher brain centers. By activating certain movements with infants and children you can help prune their nervous systems for health and openness. Tummy time is the most natural and beneficial exercise to encourage infants proper growth.
A healthy spine parallels a healthy brain and body. When a baby is born, their spine is in a c-shape due to the fetal position. As a child meets their developmental milestones, through crawling to being upright and walking, their spine develops natural healthy curves. The cervical curve is the normal healthy curve in their neck. The amount of curve in the neck, shows the strength of the neck. The neck is a delicate and very important region of the spine because it primarily supports their head and balances their center of gravity. Also, the brainstem can be hindered if the neck is not functioning properly or has been injured in the birth process. An absent or deficient cervical curve leads to interference in the communication between the brain and the body, as well as predisposes a person to decreased range of motion, premature degeneration and pain in their spine as an adult. Proper functioning of the spine and nervous system helps prevent injuries and joint dysfunction as an adult, as all orthopedic conditions are preceded by a neurological imbalance, many times from infancy and childhood. Tummy time is one of the first natural exercises performed by an infant that help to develop this natural healthy neck curve.
Once a newborn’s belly button has healed from the umbilical connection and the stump falls off, you can introduce the tummy time position. Between one and two months, it is normal to observe your baby hold their head up and comfortably raise their head approximately 45 degrees while on their tummy. You will also see them turn their head and eyes to sound and follow objects, as well as recognize faces and smile spontaneously.
It is best to attempt tummy time when your baby is well rested and fed, to avoid irritability and fussiness. Also, give them time to digest their milk, approximately 30-45 minutes post feeding, to avoid excessive spit up. We recommend starting slow, with 1 – 2 minute intervals throughout the day, and increase gradually based on your baby’s comfort, happiness, and ease.
To get the most out of your baby’s tummy time, be creative and try different ways to optimize their experience. Always supervise your baby, to ensure their safety. An exercise ball is a great variation and the motion stimulates the brain to further enhance their development. You can also try placing your baby on their tummy with a rolled up towel, nursing pillow, or tummy time pillow under their armpits, so they have more support and a better view of the world. Babies love interacting with mirrors, so place a small safety mirror in front of them and watch as they discover themselves. Having your baby lay on your chest is another good method – as infants love being held and looking at your face, especially skin to skin. You can also hold your baby across your thighs face down while you massage their back, this can double as a soothing activity before nap time.
If your baby does not seem to enjoy tummy time, or they seem uncomfortable, it could indicate that they have an injury to their spine and interference in their nervous system. This is common from the birth process. A trained pediatric chiropractor can address this concern with gentle care. Pediatric chiropractic care is also essential because it can speed up any developmental delay that may be present by changing the tone of the nervous system to the parasympathetic state – which allows for growth and healing. Gentle, specific adjustments performed by a trained pediatric chiropractor, ensure that a child has a clear and connected brain and body.
At Pure Light Family Chiropractic we love caring for babies from birth through every stage of development to ensure they have the best start in life!