What is the research about?

Children with Down Syndrome (DS) are at increased risk for many health conditions, such as heart defects and obesity, and commonly have motor development delays. Since motor skills help children interact with their surroundings, they are important to the development of learning, social, and physical skills, and emotional development. So, it is important that children with DS receive focused treatment to improve their motor skills. One type of treatment that can be used is “Tummy Time” (TT), which encourages infants to move around on their stomach (the prone position). TT allows infants to develop motor skills against gravity, which is an important part of more complex motor movements.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers wanted to see if TT improved the motor skills development of infants with DS. To do so, they formed two groups of children with DS – one group of 10 infants who started TT before 11 weeks of age, and another group of 9 infants who started TT after 11 weeks of age. This plan allowed the researchers to see if starting TT earlier vs. later affects the babies’ development differently. The researchers also brought together a group of 9 older infants with DS who had not received TT in the past, to see if the treatment, in general, was more helpful than no TT at all. Parents were taught how to do TT with their infants, and throughout the study did so for 90 minutes a day over a 12-month period. To measure the effect of TT on the motor development of the infants, the Bayley III Motor Scales were used by the researchers during monthly home assessments.

What did the researchers find?

The researchers found that compared to infants with DS who did not get TT, the infants who did receive the treatment showed significantly better motor development during the 12-month study period. Also, the group of infants with DS who started TT before 11 weeks of age showed better motor development than the group who started after 11 weeks. So, starting TT early during infancy may be helpful for the motor development in infants with DS.

Take home message

Infants with DS struggle to develop their motor skills, so focused treatments are needed. Although therapists could help provide Tummy Time treatments, they usually cannot spend enough time with infants to meet all their learning needs. So, early interventions that can be done by caregivers are ideal. It is important to note that further, perhaps different treatment will be needed as the babies get older and their motor skills needs become more complex.


The original Research Report was written by E. E. Wentz and published in Pediatric Physical Therapy. 2017.