In 1992, the “Back to Sleep” campaign was launched recommending that babies be placed on their backs to sleep in order to reduce the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Between 1992 and 1996, a 38% reduction in SIDS was documented.
The “Back to Sleep” campaign has resulted in many infant lives saved and is an important recommendation to follow.
As a physical therapist, I would also like to recommend that parents and caregivers of infants remember that it is also important to remember “Belly for Play.”
With the “Back to Sleep” campaign, we have seen an increase in conditions called torticollis (tight neck muscles) and plagiocephaly (development of a flat spot on the head).
We have also seen an increase in delayed development in belly skills.
These trends can be reduced with the use of belly time during supervised play beginning early in infancy.
When placed on their bellies regularly from an early age, infants stretch out muscles that are tight from being in the womb and strengthen the muscles of the neck, back and buttocks.
As the infant bears more and more weight through their hands, elbows, and shoulders these muscles also become strengthened. As the baby becomes stronger, they are able to control weight shifts on their belly, reach for toys, and eventually get up onto hands and knees for crawling.
The weight bearing the babies do through their hands also helps with their fine motor development. Important visual development also occurs during belly time.
Some babies have a difficult time with belly time and become very fussy.
This can be very frustrating for parents and it is tempting to give up and allow babies to spend most of their time on their backs, or in carseats, bouncy seats and swings. If this is the case with your infant, don’t give up.
Be persistent and try some of the following tips:
• Instead of trying to do one or two long sessions of belly time per day, try to do multiple, short sessions throughout the day.
• Try having the baby lay on your lap, on your chest, or carry them around in your arms on their belly—this also counts as belly time.
• Position the baby over a rolled up towel under the chest, Boppy pillow or on a wedge for belly time. The baby does not have to work as hard when on an incline as when lying flat on the floor and may be more tolerant of being positioned on their belly.
• Lay on the floor with the baby when doing belly time and read colorful board books or have interesting toys available to look at to act as a distraction.
Page 2 of 2 - Remember, back to sleep, but belly for play. This will provide the infants you care about with the safety they need while sleeping, while allowing them to have the belly time they need for good development.
If you have any questions about how this recommendation applies to your little one, talk to your pediatrician.