Three Good Reasons to Not Do Tummy Time

Trying to make the best decisions for my children most often means following my gut. When that instinct, however, contradicts the pediatricians’ recommendations – and it regularly does – I worry. Am I making the right decision?

 

I am never more confident in going against this grain than when it comes to respecting my daughters’ physical competencies and not putting them in positions that they can not get into and out of themselves.

Playing Peacefully On Her Back

 

More than several years ago, I saw the video “See How They Move” featuring Magda Gerber at a staff meeting.   In the video, infants’ movement are filmed and contrasted while they move on their own and by adults. I was instantly struck by the unnecessary intervention the demonstrating adults imposed on children’s physical development.

 

One demonstration stood out to me in particular: the child who was placed on their tummy for tummy time versus the child laid on their back.  One struggled, while the other was at peace.

 

After some discussion and some careful consideration, we as a staff decided to demonstrate our respect for the infants in our care by ceasing to place infants on their tummies.

Here are three reasons why I believe “tummy time” should be nixed in the classroom and at home:

3.  Children don’t like it (though I numbered it third, it is the most important reason). Most infants protest this position because they are not yet strong enough to be in this position comfortably. I cannot count the number of times I have heard a parent state that their child does not like “tummy time.”  We are told that it is in his or her best interest and, after all, why would we not do what is in our children’s best interest?

 

In my experience, young infants are most often unhappy lying prone for the very reason they are placed there – they cannot lift their heads. Unable lift their head and hold it steady often means that they can not comfortably see. Instead I have seen infants struggle at the discomfort and confusion of being faced down.

What are our babies learning from us when they tell us that they do not like lying on their stomachs, and yet we leave them there anyway?

 

2. Practices that encourage parenting against instinct should be questioned. We, as parents and educators, are inclined to respond to our infants’ needs, feed them when hungry, and be present when needing rest. However in the case of tummy time, we are expected to push that instinct aside and ignore our worried babies.

 

Does the benefit of tummy time outweigh encouraging parents to set aside the discomfort of their infants?

 

Tolerating tearful tummy times is justified by the rationale that children will experience unpleasant things in their lifetimes. The long-term effects of some unpleasant experiences, such as vaccinations or tummy time, are deemed to outweigh the unpleasantness.

 

1. It’s unnecessary. Placing your infant in a position that they are not physically capable of holding themselves demonstrates a disrespect for those movements that our infants are capable of doing. We are communicating to our infants that this is what they should be doing, rather than honoring their individual time tables and naturally unfolding strengths. Learning to hold one’s head occurs in time as children grow and gain strength.
Tummy time is not only meant to strengthen a child’s neck, it is also instruction for parents to make sure the infants head is not constantly against a flat surface which can cause plagiocephaly or a flat head.

The time infants spend time in car seats or under toy bars can limit their head movements, resulting in flat heads. So, tummy time lessen the effect of such restricted movement.

 

 

Floor Time - Looking at Plant

Floor Time In Lieu of Tummy Time

I never placed Greysen or Moon on their stomachs until they were well beyond being able to get there and back on their own. But even before the girls, I had the benefit of seeing the unfettered development of many typically developing children in my care. Rather than tummy time, we practice “floor time”. Laying infants in a comfortable position on their backs on a firm surface with interesting things to look at (toys or adult faces) offers infants a similar opportunity to develop their neck muscles without imposing an uncomfortable position on them.

 

Both Greysen and Moon can hold their heads up and learned to do so on their own time and without tears. More importantly. listening to my instincts has given me some confidence to hold onto in other times and decisions I have made regarding their care in which the results are not immediate.

 

19 thoughts on “Three Good Reasons to Not Do Tummy Time

  1. Great post. Some additional thoughts… Babies are very confident and competent when prone in certain circumstances. Specifically, if they are being “worn” or held or in laid back breastfeeding positions. I don’t think that babies object to prone positions specifically but rather, they object to being being left prone and alone – particularly when in an awake/alert state. One complicating factor of the “back to sleep” recommendations is that so many babies insist on sleeping on their tummies! Hmmm… If you haven’t already, perhaps those recommendations could inspire your next post?! Just some thoughts, none of which contradict yours. I wholeheartedly agree with you!

    Genia Stephen, RM, IBCLC

  2. Interesting article. My DS never liked tummy time and would cry. I always respected that and lifted him when he did. We used slings a lot and I have been told that this is effective at helping their muscular and balance development.

  3. as a midwife I notice that back lying causes babies to jerk themselves awake (startle reflex). so we then introduced swaddling to keep them asleep longer. the prone position is very well tolerated by newborn babies and they sleep soundly in this position. it made me wonder if babies sleeping alone in their cots in their own rooms startle themselves awake often then dont sleep too deeply and thus be less at risk of SIDS. I noticed with my own baby that he naturally fell asleep on his back when we co slept but slept more soundly on his own if placed on his tummy during the day. i wore him most of the time and fed him in a laid back position where he had plenty of tummy time. when I did give him tummy time on the floor he tolerated it pretty well but I didn’t do it often as he had ample opportunities on me. The back to sleep message is a necessary one for a culture where most babies are formula fed and sleep alone. I totally agree that we need to listen to what our babies tell us. they are wise beyond measure. it is so interesting reading a new perspective and it has definitely revised my tummy time thinking. thank you

  4. Hi, I am really glad that I read your post. When my son was six weeks old I found out that I was meant to have been doing tummy time and at the time I freaked out thinking I was a bad mum by not having done it.
    Luckily I went to SPACE that week and saw a dvd by Magda Gerber about letting children develop at their own pace. I was very relieved to see that I hadn’t let my child down and I also really felt that not doing tummy time was in fact better for my child.
    My son is now 13 weeks old and just recently I read that my baby ‘should’ be rolling over soon from all the time on their tummy.
    He’s not ready yet (otherwise he’d be doing it – as Magda so wisely said!), but he’s strong from the tummy time he has when we cuddle and I’m leaning back. I was having a moment of not trusting that I had made the right decision by not doing floor tummy time. So I googled it and up came your posts. Thanks for reaffirming that I am doing right by my child and letting him develop at his own gorgeous pace. xx

  5. Good article… good points… but not necessarily true for every baby. My son loved tummy time he would always smile it was very rare that he struggled but every baby is different I am glad to see that people give their babies a choice though 🙂

  6. Reasons why uneducated people shouldn’t be able to educate others: They may influence them to do the wrong thing because they have no idea why the prone position is necessary when babies aren’t sleeping.

    1. What are the reasons you think babies need tummy time. I have worked with many and they hated it. I chose not to do tummy time with them and they rolled when they were ready. And… Their heads were not flat.

    2. If you were really that educated, you would know a study done recently found that tummy time probably is unnecessary. A mother’s instincts should be followed more than what “experts” say. These supposed experts have been wrong about many things in the past, and much of the parenting advice given by them has actually done a great deal of harm.

  7. Reasons why even some “educated” people shouldn’t be able to educate others: They may show education does not fix ignorance. I hold a doctorate in biological anthropology and a master’s degree in kinesiology. From my professional and personal experiences I can say some developmental milestones are arbitrary and vary across cultures. Children develop on their own time and can even skip steps (scooting instead of crawling, for example) and turn out perfectly healthy. Many cultures do not practice tummy time nor have their children sleep on their stomachs (rural China is what I’m most familiar with), yet I have not seen any research showing an epidemic of children with physical development problems. Also, there is no one position that is “necessary” for development of muscle tone or skeletal structure. By engaging children with objects or faces in different directions while supine you receive the same effect as tummy time without the gastrointestinal issues and discomfort prone position can induce.

  8. This is incredibly in informative and inaccurate. There’s no argument that the Back to Sleep campaign in the 90’z didn’t save infants lives, it did! But what it also did was scare parents so much that they never put a child on there tummy and then when they wanted to try tummy time a little older of course the child wasn’t comfortable. It’s also no surprise that the rate of infantile scoliosis in the US and Canada has had a huge incline since this campaign started. Any pediatric orthopedic surgeon will tell you tummy time is very important for the proper growth and development of the spine, chest wall, and surrounding tissues for multiple reasons not just in the prevention of infantile scoliosis.

  9. Lol. I always feel bad when the maternal & child health nurse asks if dd is having tummy time. Yes, she does. She lays on my tummy while I lay on my back. A couple of seconds and she tires and that is enough. I also carry her over my arm on her tummy when she’s unsettled. It helps with wind and she looks around in the prone position. But putting her on the floor – it doesn’t happen often or for long. I’m not going to leave my baby upset. I’ve done the same for my other 4 children and they have been fine. We have always had comments at how strong their necks are and what good head control they have from a young age, despite being tiny little dots with larger than average (over 50th percentile) heads.

  10. Hello Ladies. I’m a Gramma of 6 and the last two (so far) were born in early July. Our oldest grandsons are 12 (they’re twins) and our youngest is 4 months. Holy….Tummy time! Such a controversy hey? Gee, when I had my grandchildren’s parents (i.e. their dads and their moms) it was more about putting them on their sides when they slept while their little digestive systems digested the breast (in my case) or formula milk in them…sorry, never thought about them being flat headness at time; nor side flathead or whatever. Too much worrying, new parents….just saying.

  11. I think that your premises against tummy time are weak. compared to the benefits, here is what the American Occupational Therapy Association has to say:

    Tummy Time is an important activity for your baby’s development and is endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Because the AAP recommends that babies sleep on their backs for safety reasons, babies need enough supervised Tummy Time during the hours they are awake to strengthen head, neck, and upper body muscles. Tummy Time helps to build the strength and coordination needed for rolling over, crawling, reaching, and playing. Remember that all babies benefit from Tummy Time, including newborns.
    – See more at: http://www.aota.org/about-occupational-therapy/patients-clients/childrenandyouth/tummy-time.aspx#sthash.JK9lypCc.dpuf

  12. Moreover, from The Children’s Hospital Los Angeles: study on spinal abnormalities noted that SIDS has gone down dramatically since the “back to sleep” campaign and that babies are now six times safer. The study concluded that tummy time during waking hours helps the muscles around the spine gain strength.

    Since “back to sleep” has been implemented, doctors have seen an increase in flattening of the heads of babies, called plagiocephaly, as well as some spinal problems. The flattening of a baby’s head can be prevented by changing the head position of the sleeping baby, and also by doing tummy time. They suggest five or more minutes a day by the time the baby is 6 weeks old. Exact time is not as important as doing tummy time every day, or twice a day, for as long as the baby is awake and enjoying the time.

    Other authors note that the head and neck strength that a baby gains from tummy time also helps prevent SIDS because the baby can move better. Additionally, a baby will be able to see the world from a different vantage point, and by placing toys within reach, the baby is stimulated.

  13. I clicked on this article looking for EVIDENCE-supported reasons as to why someone shouldn’t give their child “tummy time.” I was highly disappointed. Just because you’re child doesn’t like doing something, doesn’t mean you stop doing it. If you’re child says they don’t want to eat vegetables, bathe, or go to school, do you give into their commands? Probably not. Saying that tummy time is a way of a parent to put aside their instinct to care for their child’s needs is ridiculous. The same could be said if you leave them in their crib or swing. That “reason” is encouraging that an infant needs to be held 24/7 and that is encouraging the infant to be dependent is every aspect of their development as a baby. The last reason is absurd because putting an infant in prone is essential for them to use and gain strength in their cervical muscles; how do you think they learn to hold their heads up against gravity, by learning to hold it up in a sustained position before they are ever mobile. And on that note, being in prone, aka “tummy time,” is the initial position a baby starts in to learn to roll over (using the asymmetrical tonic neck reflex) and mobility (crawling). Lastly “tummy time” is important for lower back extension, which also help reduce risk of being kyphotic. I highly question what type and level of education you have and it is sad that people kind this educating.

  14. My son loves tummy time. Till hes done with it. Then I change his position. Babies don’t like a lot of things and get upset with them. Doesn’t mean they’re unnecessary or parent should be told not to do them. My son sometimes freaks out while getting a diaper change. Does that mean I shouldn’t give him a clean diaper?

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