Slate has an amazing article on how the brain development of young babies is linked to the amount of playtime they spend on their tummies.
This in itself is quite a startling fact, but it turns out that the campaign to cut cot death – which involved persuading parents to put babies to sleep on their back – has led to a unintentional but general decline in waking ‘tummy time’ and a slowing in movement and nerve development for some babies.
It turns out that this can have surprisingly long-term effects:
How do we know that the babies who miss out on tummy time are at a lasting as opposed to temporary disadvantage? Looking at data from thousands of people born in 1966 in Northern Finland, a research group led by Charlotte Ridgway at the Institute of Metabolic Sciences, Cambridge, has shown that a one-month delay in infant motor development had the same detrimental effect on how a 14-year-old performs in physical education class as a one-unit increase in the same child’s body-mass index. Using the same Northern Finland cohort, Ridgway and her co-authors also mapped a one-to-one link between the age at which infants stand unaided in their first year—another critical prewalking milestone—and their muscle strength and endurance, as well as cardiovascular fitness, at age 31.
It’s a very well researched piece with all the relevant evidence carefully linked in the article, discussing a surprising but important link between brain development and early movement possibilities.
UPDATE: Time has a cautious response to to this article, noting that although the idea is plausible, the data is largely correlational making it difficult to be confident about a lack of tummy time causing developmental delay. Recommended.
Link to ‘Tummy Time: Why babies need more of it than they’re getting’.