Modern day practices suggest putting babies on their backs to sleep and while this has contributed to a significant decrease in cot death or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), they may miss out the crawling stage, which is crucial to later learning. Babies need to be on their tummies in order to go through the fundamental movement patterns (for example, raising the head, creeping, and crawling) that stimulate both sides of the brain and lay the foundation for later reading and writing. If the crawling stage is avoided, they may encounter learning problems in school, no matter how intelligent they are. The good news is that even five minutes of ‘Tummy Time’ a day can lessen or eliminate these potential problems, and have a positive effect on head shape. This article explains why tummy time is so important to baby development and learning and what parents and practitioners can do to make it a happy and productive experience.
Crawling milestones The first crawling sign may be soon after birth, when the baby ‘crawls’ up the mother’s abdomen to find the breast. Although the action is involuntary, it may be the baby’s first experience of tummy time. Babies that are regularly put on their fronts can lift their heads for a short period of time by the end of the third week. By the age of four months, most babies can push themselves up on their forearms and hold their heads steady. By the age of six months, most babies can sit upright without support and some may have started crawling. Although every baby is unique and development will vary for each individual, most babies perfect the art of crawling by the age of ten months.
Learning to crawl In the early days of learning to crawl, it is easy to get the movements wrong! If the arms are too far forwards or the legs too far back, babies will end up flat on their tummies. But sometimes it is good to make mistakes! Babies that reach forwards for a toy or accidentally topple from a sitting position often land by chance on their tummies or on all fours.
Babies use all manner of movements to get from A to B. Some babies propel themselves forwards on their tummies, while others crawl backwards in the wrong direction. This is because the muscles in the arms, which are stronger than those in the legs, propel the baby backwards. However, as the muscles in the lower body strengthen, babies soon discover how to drive themselves forward. Some babies adopt spider-like movements (hands and feet on the floor, bottom in the air) to get what they want. However, these movements are not characterized by a co-ordinated sequence of alternate movements. Rather, they are a combination of awkward pushing, pulling and shuffling movements which are not energy efficient at all. Hands and knees crawling, however, is a very energy efficient and reliable means of locomotion. It also signifies that a certain stage in muscle control and movement has been achieved.
Top tips: 1. Place baby on his tummy for a nappy change. Once he gets used to the position, it will soon become a pleasurable habit! 2. Place a safety mirror or favourite toy a few inches from baby’s head and call his attention to it. Baby will lift his head and reach out in different directions, which develops the muscles needed for rolling over 3. Place baby on a colourful quilt with squeaky toys attached. Remove baby's socks so he can get good traction on the play mat 4. One of the best strategies is to keep baby company on the floor. Coo, sing or make funny sounds to encourage him to lift up his head. There is no other voice he would rather hear! 5. Roll a ball over baby’s back, legs and arms. It’s a great way to stimulate his skin and relieve tension 6. Place baby on your lap facing your knees. Draw up your knees so that he can see what’s going on. He will probably love the new view! 7. Lie on your back and place baby facedown on your chest. Call his name to encourage him to raise his head to get a better look at you! 8. Put baby on edge of the bed and sit on the floor with your face next to his. From this position, you can interact together 9. Place a rolled up towel under baby’s chest. This supported position allows baby to lift his head and look around and improves focus 10. Put baby on his tummy over a large bounce ball and hold him firmly while you gently rock the ball back and forth. Baby will learn to shift his body weight, which improves balance and co-ordination 11. Place baby across your legs and pat his back. It’s a great technique for settling a fussy or fretful baby!
12. Place a ball in front of baby and within easy reach. As soon as he touches the ball, it will roll away. Baby will either ‘swim’ or on his tummy or lift himself up on his forearms in an attempt to reach it 13. Exercise or massage baby after a bath while he lies on his tummy Setting aside a regular period of the day for tummy time gives babies the opportunity to learn, play and practice essential head control movements. All these things will help the brain grow and develop. Tummy exercises and creeping and crawling activities, which will be discussed in a later article, can even be used to correct spatial difficulties as well as reading, writing and mathematical problems in children that have missed out these important stages in infancy. The good news is that it is never too late to encourage these forms of movement! Parents and practitioners can follow the ideas in the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSIDS) leaflet, which is available online at www.fsid.org.uk.