Tummy Time! Child development experts have sung (and sung) its praises, and most parents and parents to-be understand that it’s important. Placing your baby tummy down on your chest, lap, or supervised on the floor is integral to every aspect of her development. Here, we’ll sing tummy time’s praises again, focusing on its role in feeding, speech, and language.
Tummy Time’s Role in Feeding & Speech
Let’s take a look at how tummy time supports your baby’s ability to manage food and form speech sounds:
It builds a stable base for eating. In order to effectively eat, digest, and eliminate food, we need to have adequate head control, the ability to maintain an upright seated position, and strong abdominal muscles. Tummy time is a workout that helps your baby develop the necessary upper body strength and postural control for early feeding skills.
It keeps her on track with gross motor milestones, which are closely related to feeding and speech. As babies move through gross motor milestones (head control, rolling over, sitting up, crawling and walking–all optimized by tummy time), their oral motor movements mimic their body movements. When your baby crawls, for instance, the side-to-side movements of her body also happen inside her mouth. Being able to move her mouth in this new way allows her to graduate from eating purees to soft foods. It also helps her shift to more complex babbling. Here’s a great article with more information about the connections between gross motor development, feeding and speech.
It develops respiratory control. Tummy time helps develop the muscles necessary for respiratory control, which allows your baby to coordinate her breathing for effective speaking and safe swallowing.
Tummy Time’s Role in Language Acquisition
When we thing of language we often thing of talking, but language is so much more than the words we speak! It encompasses three areas: Expressive language (expressing thoughts, feelings, ideas and concepts), receptive language (understanding thoughts, feelings, ideas and concepts), and pragmatic/social language (relating to others, including reading and using non-verbal cues).
So what does tummy time have to do with all that? The simple answer is: Play. Tummy time optimizes dynamic play driven by curiosity and exploration. This, especially when you’re there offering meaningful interactions, is the primary driver of language learning.
On her tummy, unlike on her back or in baby equipment, your baby has the freedom to crane her neck and move her head in a wide arc. This wide view of her surroundings allows her curiosity to thrive. She’ll be motived to look around, and as she gains strength she’ll push up, reach for things, and learn how to move her body to explore her environment.
If you get on he floor with her to label and describe the things she looks at, points at or reaches for, she will learn that words have meaning. If you interact with her around things she’s interested in, especially by responding to her vocalizations, she will begin to learn to express herself, understand you, and navigate back-and-forth communication.
Aside from offering opportunities for rich interaction with your baby, tummy time promotes the development of her body, sensory system, and cognitive skills–all necessary for moving on to more complex play and language learning.
We encourage you to give your baby as much tummy time as possible, and you can start from day one! Some babies are fussy at first, but don’t give up. Put her on her tummy for a few minutes at a time until she gets used to it.
Stay tuned for a follow-up tummy time article, where we check in with one of our favorite occupational therapists to explore tummy time’s role in sensory-motor development.