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Tummy Time & Cognitive Development

Tummy time, on its own, doesn't necessarily build cognitive development, but a few simple activities can enrich tummy time to make it a source of physical and cognitive growth. To get the most out of your tummy time sessions, make sure your baby is alert, happy and ready to play. Don't try tummy time when your baby is hungry or tired.

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General Recommendations

The main benefits of tummy time are physical, rather than cognitive. Tummy time helps strengthen the head, shoulder, neck and upper body muscles, according to the American Occupational Therapy Association, and also builds the muscles needed for crawling, rolling over and reaching. Tummy time can also prevent the back of your baby's head from becoming flat, advises the Mayo Clinic, a condition that can occur when babies are left on their backs for too long. The Mayo Clinic recommends giving newborns a few minutes of tummy time three or four times each day. Gradually increase tummy time as your baby gets older. By the time your baby is three to four months, she should have at least 20 minutes of tummy time daily.

Build Play Skills

A few simple activities can transform tummy time from a physical activity to one that also promotes cognitive development. Spread a few toys out in front of your baby, suggests the AOTA. Your baby will look at those toys, identify them and then reach for them — an activity that requires decision making and motor planning. Place an unbreakable mirror on the blanket or floor so your baby can see himself. Your baby will eventually realize that the image in the mirror is him, an important cognitive developmental milestone.

Build Language Skills

Tummy time is an excellent opportunity to boost cognitive skills associated with language development. Lay or sit on the floor facing your baby. Make eye contact and coo, talk or sing to your baby, says the AOTA. Gather a few simple board books and use this time to read to your baby, suggests Sherry Artemenko, a pediatric speech and language pathologist based in New Haven, Connecticut. "Read the book or talk about the pictures," says Artemenko, "stopping to name and point to familiar objects, animals or people." All these activities "feed" your baby language, says Artemenko, building vocabulary and encouraging language — and cognitive — development.

RELATED: Does Your Baby Have a Flat Spot?

Watch Baby's Cues

Although tummy time can be a developmentally rich experience, don't overdo it, says the AOTA. Pay attention to your baby's level of comfort and interest. Crying, fussing or laying her head on the floor indicate that your baby is becoming tired or overstimulated. Place your baby on a firm, stable surface, such as a blanket on the floor, and never leave your baby unattended during tummy time.

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