I read a strange and quite concerning article about the case against tummy time this week.
This particular article (I won’t share because I don’t particularly want to give it much air time) wasn’t written by a paediatrician. That doesn’t instantly have to disqualify it, but it got me wondering how a lot of bogus ideas about how we look after the health of our little ones sticks around and shapes a wider community of people looking to do right by their babies.
The crux of the argument in this case against tummy time was essentially all baby’s ‘will get there in their own time’ and that pushing a baby into developing certain skills before they’re ready is unkind and it doesn’t really help them reach development milestones anyway.
I get the basis for the argument. With your little one screaming and crying because you’ve put them on their front, it definitely doesn’t feel like the ‘kind’ thing to do. If you’re trying to avoid putting your baby in situations that make them uncomfortable, this is definitely going to be an issue for you. As with many situations though, we can be guilty as parents of finding the rationale to match our preferences.
The overall assumption that babies would learn the skills they need in their own time was the most frustrating part of all this though. In part because it seems to misunderstand the history of babies spending time on their front. For several decades, right up until the early 1990s, the recommended advice was to sleep your baby on their front. This changed when a link between sleeping on their front and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) was made. From 1991 onwards, the recommended advice was to sleep your baby on their back. That means the things your baby is ‘naturally’ more comfortable with (in this case being more comfortable on their back) is really just a function of the decisions parents make to look after their baby’s health by sleeping their baby on it’s back.
The whole premise seemed to be that your baby knows best (on the whole, absolutely fine), but that learning is something that just ‘happens’ to them. And while we would always be careful of putting clear timelines on a baby’s development because every child is different, it seems counter intuitive to remove yourself from giving your baby the opportunities and challenges to help them learn and grow.
There seemed to be a worrying lack of understanding about the basics of why tummy time matters in the first place and an overwhelming complacency about how to encourage a babies learning, development and growth.
So I went in search of some expert opinions to understand the medical case behind giving your baby time on their front to debunk this case against tummy time.
Having them [your kids] on the floor helps develop core muscle strength as well as their back, neck and arms. Tummy time leads to milestones like crawling and rolling a little bit earlier.”
You can’t just put your baby on their tummy and set a timer and a walk away. You need to keep an eye on them because if they slip, or their face is down and they lack the ability to lift their head up, they might not be able to breathe.
To some degree, you want them to tough it out and challenge them to push through because it’s going to help them learn some skills earlier. But if your baby despises tummy time, you don’t want to torture them.
*Matthew Badgett was speaking with the Cleveland Clinic.
Parents tell me their baby doesn't like to be on their tummy, but it's really important to do.
So don't get discouraged if your little one fusses. Every bit of tummy time with your baby makes a big difference. If you have done plenty of tummy time with your baby but are concerned they're not meeting their milestones, bring your concerns to your baby's paediatrician, and always remember back to sleep, tummy to play.
*Dr. Cindy Gellner was speaking with the University of Utah
You can start them on their belly as early as possible. Do it in short bursts for a few minutes throughout the day as tolerated by your baby, usually until they get fussy.
*Katie Lockwood was speaking with the Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia
So the case is pretty clear, but it’s interesting to note that even the professionals agree that it’s not going to be easy and you need to try and manage that. While the answer doesn’t seem to be extreme – “I’m not doing that”, there’s an acknowledgement that your baby’s time on their front needs to be managed.
Whether it’s having a soft cushioned and supported space to play; having at least one eye on them to make sure they’re okay (especially when very little); or just not letting them get too distressed, tummy time doesn’t have to be traumatic.
Personally, we struggled to make the space and time to put our kids down on their front, but there were probably hacks – support cushions, play mats and engaging sensory toys we could have made better use of to keep them on their front for longer. That’s exactly why we designed the Heads Up 4-in-1 sensory play mat.
Listening back to what the experts say I’m confident we made the right choice to push through and give our babies a bit of a challenge to get them moving at a young age. But I think we could have been a littler kinder to ourselves and used some of the tools available to help us be a little more confident putting our babies down for tummy time.