Tummy Time Helps Infants Develop Properly
Byline: THE HEALTH FILES by Tim Christie The Register-Guard
TEN YEARS AGO, pediatricians began telling new parents to put their infants to sleep on their backs, hoping to reduce the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
By the most important measure - saving lives - the Back to Sleep campaign has been a huge public health success story.
Today 85 percent of American parents are putting their babies to sleep on their backs, compared to 30 percent in 1992, and SIDS deaths have declined 55 percent, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"It has done what we hoped, which is decrease the SIDS rate," said Dr. John Kattwinkel, a Charlottesville, Va., neonatologist who chairs the academy's task force on infant positioning and SIDS.
Yet, the campaign has brought with it some unintended consequences.
For one, more parents are reporting that their infants start walking without ever having crawled. And pediatricians have reported an increase in the number of infants with plagiocephaly - that is, flat heads.
Mainstream medical research has found that babies who don't crawl typically start walking at the same age as babies who do crawl. Flat heads often correct themselves - though some cases of plagiocephaly are severe enough to require medical treatment.
But some complementary and alternative medicine providers in Eugene say it's far too soon to declare those side effects as benign. They say they're seeing health and development problems that merit more investigation.
Dr. Sharell Tracy, a Eugene chiropractor, said she's grown alarmed at the babies she sees in her practice who sleep on their backs and have flat heads that are causing vision and other problems.
"We are saving children's lives, but are we damaging all the rest of them?" she asks.
One problem seems to be that that parents are missing - or doctors aren't delivering - a key part of the Back to Sleep message: When infants are not sleeping, they should spend time playing on their stomachs.
"Some parents feel so emotional about this (SIDS) issue - as they should - that they'd never put babies on their stomachs," Kattwinkel said. "That's not the idea. Babies should only be on their backs when they're sleeping. When they're up and awake, they ought to have a fair amount of tummy time."
Tummy time helps babies develop upper shoulder strength and keeps them from developing flat heads, pediatricians say. …