Supervised, awake tummy time is recommended to facilitate a baby’s development and minimise flat head syndrome. But some babies don’t like tummy time, and will kick up an almighty fuss to let you know. Luckily, tummy time is not all you can do to get your baby moving.
When does flat head syndrome go away?
Flat head syndrome is most common between the ages of 6 weeks and 2 months old, and almost always resolve completely by age 2, particularly if parents and caregivers regularly work on varying baby’s positions when he’s awake.
Flat head syndrome can be disconcerting, especially for new parents, but it rarely causes any harm to your baby and usually remedies itself within a few months. Don’t let the sight of a flat or pointy head detract from the joy of the first few months of babyhood, because they’ll be gone before you know it.
Just tummy time isn’t enough
Supervised tummy time, or rolling the child onto their stomach, has long been recommended, although currently there are no national guidelines regarding the frequency and duration of tummy time an infant should receive.
Tummy time helps strengthen babies’ necks. It gets them off the back of their heads where flatness can occur and leads to strengthening of the extensors (straightening muscles) in the back of the neck, which hold the head up when babies are on their stomachs.
Some research found tummy time alone is not enough to prevent flat heads. In addition to tummy time, parents should encourage “face time” to strengthen the muscles at the front of the neck to enable baby to move their head while on their back.
Face time is challenging for the baby as it requires the flexor (curling up) muscles to coordinate the head to lift it forward towards you, and against gravity.
Face time can be done when baby is awake by supporting them in front of you “face to face” and engaging them with direct eye contact. If they are happy and settled they will follow your eyes to the side and, if you keep eye contact, turn their head to see you.
Previous studies have shown reduced plagiocephaly rates when parents prepared the environment to allow free and spontaneous movement (such as placing the baby on a mat when they’re awake), when infants spent less time in carriers, and when parents were aware of the infant’s head position. This research adds specific advice for active head movement that can become part of daily activities.
Both tummy time and face time can be started from birth. Tummy time can be face time as well if you lie down with them on your stomach. When they can hold their head up themselves in tummy time they can go on a mat with some toys for short sessions.
If they’re upset, get down and play with them to see if they settle, otherwise you need to pick a better time when they are active and awake.