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Tummy Time in Babyhood Linked to Fitness and Smarts in Teenagehood

Tummy time and developmental milestones

Less tummy time, slower development?

An article in Slate outlines the problems that we’re having now that babies aren’t on their tummies enough — delayed motor skills, lower IQ, and even school-related problems like those affecting reading comprehension.

We know the history of back-to-sleep. The campaign started in the 1990’s because back sleeping was associated with a decreased risk of SIDS. And since back-to-sleep was initiated, SIDS deaths have been cut in half, so thankfully most parents continue to follow it.

But tummy time: we know babies don’t like it in the early months. Many doctors stress the importance of it, but one study found that only 55 percent of parents are instructed to do tummy time (even though 90 percent are told about back sleep).

Less tummy time means slower-to-develop motor skills. But, surprisingly, the connection goes beyond just sitting and walking — thinking skills are involved too:

I was under the impression that when a kid develops motor skills doesn’t have that much to say about his future brain power, but Slate pulls out research on thousands of people that showed a one-month delay in motor skills has the same effect on a teenagers physical education performance as a one-unit-increase in the child’s BMI.

And another study: every month advance that a child learns to pull up to stand translates into half an IQ point by age 8. And by 26, early motor developers had higher reading comprehension.

I buy the fact that back-sleeping, along with all the time babies spend in car seats and strollers is cutting into their motor development for sure. I always tell the moms in my parenting groups that a mat on the floor is the best default place to put your baby during play, and I demonstrate over and over how to maximize tummy time.

But I don’t know if I buy the cognitive connection. The studies cited in Slate show that kids who develop motor skills earlier have a slight advantage, but it seems more likely that faster-developing brains learn both motor skills and cognitive skills more quickly, not that the motor skills cause the bump in cognitive skills.

So tummy time, yes, it’s key. But from my point of view, it’s mainly about motor development. Here are a few tips to encourage your baby if she’s not a fan:

1. Start your baby on her back and tell her your going to roll her over. Say the word “tummy time” so it’s a cue — she’ll learn what it means eventually.

2. Roll her by the hips gently — don’t just put her belly down. The idea is to help as little as possible and not to simply plop her into a spot she couldn’t get on her own.

3. If her arm is still caught under her, gently lift the hip on the same side of the body as the arm. Allow a little space so she can get the arm out herself.

4. Lie down in front of her and/or get a book with baby faces in it so she is motivated to look.

5. If she really needs help, roll up a small blanket under her armpits. Avoid the boppy or a big pillow.

6. If she fusses, that’s okay. When she starts crying, tell her you’re going to roll her back, and do so.

Do you have any tummy time tips or experiences to share?

Image: flickr

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