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Babies develop strength and coordination first by raising their heads up from a flat surface at about 1 month, then by leaning on their forearms at about 2 to 3 months, and finally by pushing up on just their hands at about 4 to 5 months. Every baby has his or her own schedule, but this timeline is the general pattern.
By 4 months, most babies can do a mini-pushup — holding up their heads and chests by supporting themselves on their elbows — but some pediatricians believe that more and more babies aren't reaching this milestone until 6 months of age.
Two recent studies support this observation. One study, done in England, found that 6-month-olds who were put to sleep on their backs had less advanced motor skills, such as creeping and pushing up, than those who slept on their stomachs. Another study, done in Kansas, concluded that babies who sleep on their back are less likely to roll over by 4 months than babies who are put to sleep on their tummy.
Pediatrician John Katwinkel, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Task Force on Infant Positioning and SIDS, says back sleeping isn't the only culprit in this developmental delay; infant seats and swings are also to blame. Katwinkel says that when parents rely too much on these devices, babies have fewer opportunities to strengthen their upper-body muscles.
Tummy time is essential for encouraging muscle development. Try putting your baby on the floor or in a play yard so he can practice his pushups and develop the muscles in his neck, shoulders, and upper back.
When your child is awake, don't let him sit in an infant swing or seat for more than an hour at a time. And no matter what, keep putting your baby to sleep on his back. Since the AAP began recommending this position for sleep, SIDS deaths have declined by 30 percent.
If you still have concerns, ask your healthcare provider to check your baby's development.