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.

 

7 Comments

  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

    • Marisa says:

      Hi Genia,
      Thanks for your thoughtful comments! I agree with you that sleep is a different situation. Thanks for reading! – Marisa

  2. Hanna says:

    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. tiff says:

    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. Mikaela says:

    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. alexk says:

    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. Master's educated says:

    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.

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