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.
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 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.