Many times people in the general public are surprised to hear that occupational therapists work with children who are newborn up through school age. The role of occupational therapists working with children, either with or without special needs, is to assist with the development of skills. Children will develop skills at their own rate; therapists do not make children develop skills. What therapists can do is provide education and instruction on activities and opportunities that will encourage the development of a skill that is delayed or absent. One of the biggest suggestions occupational therapists have for new parents is to provide “Tummy Time” to help develop the child’s skills and strength.
It is very important for parents to put infants “Back to Sleep,” which means that infants should always fall asleep on their back. Placing sleeping babies down on their back in bed decreases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Although infants need to sleep on their back, babies also need to play on their tummy during waking hours, referred to as “Tummy Time.” An adult should always supervise “Tummy Time,” however this activity can begin as early as infancy by placing the baby on his/her tummy on the chest of an awake adult while the adult is reclined in a chair. As the child grows, this activity can progress to the floor, usually a hard, yet padded surface, like a carpet. This is the time to engage the child with toys, songs, and games. Parents should not be discouraged if the child cries; remember, “practice makes perfect.” Short sessions at least three times per day are great to encourage strong head and neck control along with increased coordination.
Some of the benefits of “Tummy Time” are: 1) develops large muscle strength so the child can roll and crawl, 2) increases strength and coordination in shoulders, arms, and hands for playing with toys and eventually self feeding, 3) provides visual stimulation so the child can have a different look at the world, 4) generates deep pressure and tactile input in hands, arms, and shoulders so children can feel where their bodies are in space, and 5) provides a great time for parents and child to bond.
Some consequences of not providing “Tummy Time” are: 1) delays in developing skills such as rolling, crawling, and walking, 2) development of asymmetrical head shape (flat spots on the child’s head), 3) weakness in neck, back, shoulders, arms, and hands, and 4) poor development of coordination in arms and hands, resulting in difficulty with handwriting and sports.
All new parents envision a happy, healthy life for their child. As occupational therapists, we recommend that parents start their child out right by providing “Tummy Time.”
For more information, please call the Veterans Memorial Hospital Occupational Therapy Department at 568-5528.
By Tami Gebel, Occupational Therapist
Veterans Memorial Hospital