Updated: Apr 6
Dr. Tara Losquadro Liddle, PT, DPT, PCS, is no stranger to the importance of child development. With more than 30-years of experience as a licensed physical therapist, and a certified pediatric specialist, Dr. Liddle, the author of Why Motor Skills Matter, firmly believes that babies need to spend more time on their tummies and less time being rushed into faux walking in containment devices.
Indeed, as busy parents navigate parenthood and jobs, Dr. Liddle says that in recent decades parents are putting their children into containment devices – car seats, rockers, bucket seats, swings, etc. – more frequently than ever before. Extended time in these devices, and on the baby's back, however, increases the chances of Plagiocephaly, or "flat head syndrome." Focusing on tummy time instead of these containment devices is the simplest and most effective way to prevent Plagiocephaly from developing and to treat it if it does.
Parents and other caregivers – nannies, babysitters, even grandparents – also place babies in upright devices, such as Jolly Jumpers, exersaucers, and infant walkers at very young ages, well before their bodies are ready to be vertical.
"We all know that babies need to be on their tummy for developmental reasons. However, parents are frequently under the misconception that putting babies in upright devices will help them walk at an earlier age," says Dr. Liddle. "To help your baby develop and become stronger, I recommend keeping your baby on the floor – crawling and exploring – as long as possible."
She adds that parents often worry that their baby is “bored” on the floor, so she recommends a variety of floor activities, such as using the Crawligator, which helps babies explore their environment.
According to studies, keeping babies cooped up in a device all day denies the baby the joy of exploring their environment, which is needed for the baby's physical and cognitive development. Dr. Liddle says that babies are “happier, healthier, stronger, and learn more from floor time play.” "Floor time is associated with movement as the baby explores the world and their own body. This movement is a natural step in the progression of development," says Liddle.
Supervised tummy time can begin within weeks of birth. They may not tolerate being on their bellies for long, perhaps only a few seconds, but just being in that position is important for development. Newborns typically turn their heads side to side, and eventually, they raise their heads higher. Before you know it, the baby is pushing up on his or her forearms, managing weight shifting, and developing towards pre-crawling. The baby will soon begin to reach for toys while on his or her tummy, and then start rotating in a circle. Each of these achievements during floor play develops your baby's shoulder, hip, and trunk muscles.
Some of the Benefits of Tummy Time and Crawling:
• Head control
• Develops shoulder and trunk muscles
• Increases hip range of motion and strength
• Enhances gross and fine motor skills
• Improves postural control
• Teaches spatial cognition or awareness of the environment
Your baby needs each of these markers for higher-level developmental activities.
Why is Crawling So Important to Baby's Development?
Some people believe that crawling is not essential, but Dr. Liddle says it is important to your baby's development. "Tummy time, leading to crawling, fosters a baby's development of reciprocal motion, sensory processing, and strength."
For newborns to early infant crawlers (age 0-9 months), tummy time is key in building the body strength that leads to walking and other physical developments.
• When a baby is crawling (especially when the belly is off the floor), the baby is building strength right then and there.
• Crawling works on the range of motion of the hip joints and improves coordination of the shoulders, wrists, fingers, and hips. Proximal control is necessary for distal function. For example, to hold a pen properly, one needs shoulder strength from playing and weight-bearing on the upper extremities.
• Crawling helps to develop core strength and abdominal muscles that improve the baby's overall posture.
• Once the baby is up on hands and knees, they develop a sense of depth perception and view things in a 3D perspective.
• Every time your baby crawls, both the left and right sides of the brain are used. This reciprocal motion and activation assist with sensory skills needed for cognition and higher-level skill development later in life.
• While on their tummy, babies should be on hard surfaces. Muscles activate better off a hard surface.
Why She Loves the Crawligator
"After 30 years, I have seen and worked with a lot of babies. After a while, I began to see the great significance of the impact of floor time play on their development," said Dr. Liddle. "When I came across the Crawligator, I was excited because it not only encourages babies to strengthen but also encourages head lifting and motion as the baby attempts to explore their world. These early developmental stages form the focus of my book, to help parents understand the importance of touch, movement, and play in their child's first five years."
Her Tips for More Tummy Time:
• Make the Time and keep it simple – start as soon as you bring your baby home. Holding your baby, facing you on your chest while lying on your back counts as tummy time.
• Some babies may only tolerate a few seconds of belly time initially. As your baby grows and gains strength, he or she will be able to handle longer periods of tummy time.
• Get your baby comfortable on the hard floor and increase that time as your baby grows.
• Start with short, supervised periods throughout the day when the baby is awake.
• To help facilitate movement, block off an area with gated units, and you can put your baby on the Crawligator.
Have Patience – Every Baby Develops in Their Own Time
Both Dr. Liddle and her partner, Dr. Cara Yochai, PT, DPT, PCS, remind parents that all babies develop at different levels and over different periods of time. Parents should not be looking at dates (i.e., baby should be sitting at four months) but milestones. It's more important to let each baby go through their individual development. Pushing babies because parents believe they should be ahead will only frustrate the baby. They put confidence that it's all okay as long as the baby is moving forward.
Dr. Tara Losquadro Liddle received both her BS in Physical Therapy and a master's degree in Physical Therapy Management of Developmental Disabilities from New York University. In the fall of 2019, she received her doctoral degree in pediatric PT at Rocky Mountain University. Most recently, Tara became a board-certified pediatric specialist. Her "back to basics" approach with simple techniques and toys is easily adapted into parents' daily activities. Including a strong belief in the importance of tummy time for baby development, leading her to write Why Motor Skills Matter (1st ed. 2003, 2nd ed. 2018), in which she donates a portion of the proceeds to a designated charity. Tara is a frequent speaker at hospitals, schools, and parenting groups. She strongly believes in supporting charities for children and animals. Currently, she is a board member of Crutches4Kids and Empowers Africa. www.motorskillsmatter.com motorskillsmatter @ gmail.com; @motorskillsmatter