Children and families face any number of different needs that may keep the youngsters from developing and reaching their personal potential. Many of these issues are out of the parent or child’s control. However, when it comes to kids who just don’t get enough floor time, and especially tummy time as infants, there is something parents can do.
Recently, I worked with the family of a 3-month-old child who was developing plagiocephaly, or flattening of the head. In keeping with safe sleep guidelines, the parents had been placing him on his back at bed time. He would then spend much of his day in his car seat or a bouncy seat he liked. As a result, he often rested his head in the same position. I worked with his parents to create a strategic tummy-time routine. After several weeks of tummy time, the flattening had begun to resolve. Additionally, his motor skills had improved greatly.
As children with plagiocephaly get older, repositional strategies may not be enough. At this point, the child’s physician may prescribe corrective measures, including special helmets that correct the flattening or direct therapy to progress motor skills.
The Back-to-Sleep campaign has been invaluable in reducing the number of deaths from sudden infant death syndrome, but parents sometimes carry those guidelines into the infant’s waking hours and never offer the child floortime play. Toy manufacturers have created convenient baby contraptions such as toteable car seats, swings, bouncy seats and more that further discourage just laying kids on the floor to play.
As a pediatric occupational therapist, I see a child’s “work” as play. The importance of enough time playing on the floor cannot be overstated. It helps a child work on developing skills. Kids learn to push up, roll over and strengthen their necks by raising their heads during tummy time. Children who are left in car seats or swings for the majority of their day are vulnerable to plagiocephaly and slower development of gross and fine motor skills.
Ironically, tummy time and back-to-sleep actually both work to reduce the risk of SIDS in infants. Children who strengthen their neck and upper bodies through floor time will be strong enough to move away from items that might otherwise smother them. Once children have reached their first birthday, SIDS is not as much of a concern, but floor time is still the best way for them to continue developing gross motor skills and coordination.
At Connect the Dots, our staff is always encouraging families to incorporate playful tummy and floor time in their infant’s daily routines. And remember, tummy time can take place on your chest or legs as well as the floor. Get creative and change it up! If you need some ideas, check out Pathway Awareness’s tummy time YouTube video.
Happy tummy time!
Stephanie Wagers is a licensed occupational therapist and owner of Connect the Dots Pediatric Therapy in Eugene. Parenting Now! is a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening families through parent support and education. Our phone number is 541-484-5316.