NO Tummy Time Necessary

September 20, 2010 · 41 comments

in Development

Allowing babies to move freely, according to their own inner schedules and dictates,  is a hallmark of Magda Gerber’s RIE philosophy.When babies are allowed to develop naturally, in their own time and their own way, they learn to move with ease and grace. They tend to have excellent body awareness and posture, and a good sense of where their bodies are in space.

Allowing a baby’s gross motor development to unfold naturally means avoiding placing babies into positions they can’t get into or out of on their own. Ideally, young babies are placed on their back not just for sleep, but for play time as well, because this is the position that most supports their bodies, and in which they are most relaxed, and free to move. This means no tummy time for babies until they spontaneously begin to roll first to their sides, and then unto their tummies. It means not pulling or propping a baby with pillows into a sitting position until he can move into this position on his own. It means avoiding all baby “containers” like bouncy seats, exersaucers, and baby swings, and using car seats judiciously. It means not lifting a toddler onto a piece of play equipment, like a slide, that she can’t yet scale herself.

There are untold advantages for babies who are allowed to develop their ability to move on their own without adult assistance or interference. For instance, they are safer, and less likely to fall from playground equipment and injure themselves, because they develop good judgement. As Magda Gerber said, “If they can climb up by themselves, we can trust that they can climb down safely.” (For an excellent description of how children learn to sense where their bodies are in space, see: Learning to “Sense” Space:Why Kids May Fall Out of Bed,  at Moving Smart.)

It turns out nature has a plan, and it’s a good one. All children develop gross motor skills in exactly the same sequence, and all that varies is the timing. If children are given the opportunity to practice moving freely, they will be in tune with, and strengthen their ability to listen to their own body wisdom. At every stage, in every way, they will be doing exactly what they need to do to prepare themselves to achieve the next milestone. Their gross motor abilities will unfold before our eyes- no adult help or intervention needed. They will not attempt to use equipment or take risks that they are not yet ready for.

When we place babies in positions that they are not yet able to achieve on their own, we may place them at risk of injury, of developing poor co-ordination and posture, and equally importantly, we risk cutting off their own inner agenda, and their self initiated exploration.There are recent studies that show that babies placed in baby walkers and exersaucers, actually develop their ability to walk at a later date than babies who have not been exposed to such devices.

Magda suggested that babies know best how to be babies, and there are just some things we should not rush.The message babies might get when we “help” them, by pulling them to sitting before they can do it on their own for instance, might be this one: “I don’t value and appreciate what you can do, but I expect you to do what you can not yet do.” Is this the message we want our babies to get? What implications do you think this has for a baby’s developing sense of self, his ability to learn, or her ability to trust herself?

Another thing to consider is that when we put babies into positions that they can’t yet achieve on their own, we make them dependent on us, because they have limited mobility, and are stuck until we come to rescue them.

Most young babies are very uncomfortable, and protest loudly when they are placed on their tummies to “play”. They can’t yet lift their heads, or hold them up for very long, so they can’t see much. The ways in which they can move their arms and legs are very limited. All they can do is learn to endure the discomfort they feel, or cry, and hope someone will come to move them into a more comfortable position.

I learned from infant specialist Magda Gerber, who learned from her friend and mentor, Hungarian pediatrician Emmi Pikler, who learned from carefully observing and documenting the development of hundreds of babies over many years.

And if seeing is believing, all you need to do is watch this short video montage of baby Liv , which follows her development over the course of her first year. This four minute video, produced by Irene Gutteridge, as part of a project called The Next 25 Years speaks volumes about how babies learn to move easefully and gracefully, from back, to side, to tummy, and back again. Just look at Liv’s face when she achieves her goal of turning onto her tummy. Priceless!

 

 

 

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 janetlansbury May 18, 2011

Amen, Lisa! I was hoping you’d tackle this topic, and you did so with your usual eloquence and grace. It’s tough to go up against conventional wisdom and now even the AAP recommends forced tummy time (although they also recommend time-out, so we’re obviously on a different page in some areas). I’ll be following your lead. Parents need 100% reassurance that they don’t have to go against their instincts — make their babies miserable to insure healthy development. Forced tummy time is just more fear-based parenting. Read any of the recent studies closely and you’ll see that there is no correlation between babies who have had freedom of movement on firm surfaces and plagiocephaly. In fact unrestricted babies have not been officially studied at all, except at the Pikler Institute where all young infants are placed on their backs and there has never been a case of flat-headedness in 50 years. Go figure.
Lisa, thank you again for being a model of truth and courage.

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2 Lisa May 29, 2011

Janet, Thank you. I love this: “Parents need 100% reassurance that they don’t have to go against their instincts — make their babies miserable to insure healthy development.” I also agree there is a need for a closer examination of the existing studies, a need for more official documentation and cross comparison of babies allowed unrestricted movement vs. those who are subjected to tummy time or otherwise “helped” to develop gross motor abilities, as well as a massive campaign to educate pediatricians. Where should we start? You my friend, are doing so much to illuminate a clear path to parenting and caring for babies with respect by reaching out through your blog and supporting parents and everyone who cares about babies, and I am so grateful for your generosity and leadership. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of babies and those that love them!

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3 janetlansbury June 3, 2011

Yay! :)

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4 Nev May 19, 2011

I have to admit that we have stood our daughter up on occasion or sat her propped up but she sits beautifully and even when in her Buggy she won’t lean back. (She’d rather fall asleep sitting up).

But ever since reading an article about this causing potential problems we’ve stopped that. She’s 9 months today and is trying to stand probably swiftly followed by walking. We give her a hand but don’t pull or hold unnecessarily.

She always hated tummy time so we didn’t do it. In the end she rolled over for a day or so and then moved on to sitting. :)

Thanks, great post. :)

Nev

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5 Lisa Sunbury May 29, 2011

Nev, Good for you for trusting and listening to your daughter! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post I want to encourage you to continue to allow your little girl to find her own way, as she learns to pull herself up, find her balance in this new position, and take her first steps. It’s such an exciting time, and it can be so tempting to offer a hand, but in the end, it is best if she can do it her way. I don’t know if you know Janet Lansbury or not, but I want to share a post of hers with you that I think you’ll really enjoy and find interesting. It is called “Don’t Stand Me Up” and you can find it here:http://www.janetlansbury.com/2009/12/dont-stand-me-up/

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6 Suchada @ Mama Eve May 19, 2011

Lisa, I’m sharing this article on my Sunday Surf this week. It’s such an important message. One of the most striking images I saw at the RIE conference this weekend was a set of stills of two babies — one on her back, exploring and choosing between two objects — and another baby who was nearby on his tummy with a pacifier in his mouth. The first baby used a wide range of muscles. She wasn’t able to flip yet, but her arms moved freely, she turned her stomach muscles, she kicked her legs, and used her feet, hands, and mouth to explore the objects she was interested in. The boy on his stomach watched intently with his eyes, and moved his head to follow the action, but he was otherwise immobile, and frustrated. It was an interesting juxtaposition, and very telling.

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7 Lisa May 29, 2011

Suchada, Thank you for sharing my post! You know I love the Sunday Surf, and look forward to reading it every week. You always include such a great assortment of interesting, informative, and thought provoking articles on all aspects of parenting young children, and I’m thrilled that you see fit to include one of my posts. I’m so glad that you enjoyed the RIE Conference- it was your first time, wasn’t it? Quite an eye-opening experience in so many ways, isn’t it?

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8 Tara May 19, 2011

We should get this through to the pediatricians though. I was at the park a day prior to my baby’s 9 mo. appointment and a mom strolled by and asked how old my guy was. I said 9 mo. She said, oh, he looks bigger than mine… she had a 5 mo. old in her stroller. We chatted awhile…. I mentioned that I really never did anything my pediatrician recommended (he recommended I (a) stop breastfeeding at about a week into it… didn’t do that, and I am still breastfeeding… (b) make sure the baby had 10 min. of tummy time every day … I told doc… uh, he CRIES… the doc’s response: “Just shut the door” (OMG)…. so I just lied to everyone (including husband) about baby’s tummy time… (c) start solids before 6 months — I’m sure there’s more, but I digress).

Anyway….. I said I didn’t listen to the doctor because no doc I ever met has my (or my baby’s) best interest at heart… only I do. She says, where do you go? I told her, oh, ummm…. this place in a nearby town. Turns out we have the same pediatrician. Ha. AND it turned out that she had taken her 5 mo old to that doc on this very day for his checkup and that this doc told her her 5 mo old should at least be rolling over…. I told her that my little guy really didn’t do much of anything till 6 months & it was only recently he has become more active… but in my own opinion it is best that he just figures it out on his own, then he will develop properly.

She is a 2nd time mother…. and she was really worried that her little boy was not developing properly (1st baby girl was crawling at 5 mo she said). That just makes me sad because I know that this doctor doesn’t even think twice about the fact that telling mama “we may have to evaluate his ab muscles if he doesn’t roll over soon” is keeping her up all night long…. grrrr. I never liked doctors!

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9 Angelique May 20, 2011

Hi Lisa, thank you so much for sharing this article. I agree that all children know what is best for them and when to express that. I absolutely also think that it has no use of pushing children towards some kind of skills they are not ready for. I believe in the innate strength of all children and I also believe that offfering oppurtunities to these children is a great thing, without pushing them over their own borders.
I see around me that baby’s spend a lot of their time sitting down in babywalkers and other stuff. The main reason is that adults have no time to follow the child, to see what the child is up to. Sometimes they don’t know exactly or they are too anxious.
I am happy to follow you here, gives me great other insights!

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10 Lisa May 29, 2011

Angelique, You have made some wonderful observations. Yes, we want to offer children opportunities to move and explore, and when they are ready, they WILL show us! It is a passion of mine to help parents and other adults to feel more comfortable and less anxious, and to help them learn to create an environment that encourages and allows children to explore safely and freely, as they are ready. There is such benefit and delight to be found for both the baby and the adult in this kind of play environment and relationship.

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11 Elanne Kresser May 20, 2011

Thank you!!!
This is such a difficult concept to undo.
@Janet – could you give me a reference for the studies you mention? I’d love to read them.

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12 Lisa May 29, 2011

Elanne, Let me Know if you need further references for studies, and I will get them to you!

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13 Elanne Kresser May 29, 2011

Hi Lisa,
That would be great – would love to see some studies.
Many thanks

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14 Ruth Anne Hammond May 22, 2011

Lisa has beautifully articulated why we don’t need to impose “tummy time” on babies, but rather allow them to move freely to find their own way, in their own time, to get to their tummies. This is one way we can show respect for babies. I’ve had the pleasure of watching this happen with hundreds of babies, and it is a beautiful process to behold. Well done, Lisa!
Ruth Anne Hammond
RIE’s President, 2005-2011
http://www.respectingbabies.com

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15 Lisa May 29, 2011

Ruth Anne, Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Aren’t we among the luckiest people in the world, to be able to witness and support babies as they learn and grow in a peaceful, natural way? It never gets old for me. Watching babies grow and learn is always such a joyful, miraculous, humbling experience.

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16 Elizabeth May 29, 2011

I am completely moved by this. I don’t know how to explain why… my heart swells every time I get to watch a baby who is allowed to just be, well, a baby. :)

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17 Lisa May 29, 2011

Elizabeth, I understand completely.

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18 Purple_Kangaroo May 29, 2011

I appreciate the general idea behind this article, but am confused about the statements that a baby should never be put into positions they can’t get into or out of on their own. A baby placed on its back can’t get out of that position either until they are able to roll over, and how does holding a baby or carrying it in a sling compute to this? How is placing a baby in a walker or a baby seat significantly different from holding, wearing or carrying the baby?

Thanks!

PK

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19 Vanessa Ellsworth August 11, 2011

As a pediatric PT, I really appreciated parts of this article when talking about the “container” society and putting babies in positions that they are not developmentaly ready for such as standing, walking, etc. But, I think some people reading this article get the idea that never being on their belly’s is ok…..and no time in prone or crawling and going straight to walking is ok. These are specific motor developmental steps that build on others for shoulder, hip, palmar crease development…..as well as brain development are stimulated by using arms and legs in opposition such as crawling. Some of the kids on my caseload are never even given the option of laying on their back or belly….so they are very weak and need faciliation to “help” them gain control of that musculature. I think it is important to educate that even if we aren’t “pushing” tummy time and stressing out babies, it’s still something to make sure happens and if not, to investigate why…..

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20 Katinka December 4, 2011

Hi Janet,

Thanks for this and all your wonderful rich and intelligent blogs. I just found this one and am feeling a little conflicted about (with hindsight) what would have been in the best interests of our son (and future children).

I have often thought that we completely over-did tummie time. We bought into the idea that it was important but our son was mostly carried on our chest so I think that, in the case of babies who are carried they essentially get tummie time in that situation anyway and that the tummie time recommendation may have come about due to babies being left for most of their waking hours in cots and prams in the past (and sadly still often today as well).

My confusion and reason for writing to you now is that our son seemed to LOVE tummie time. If he had resisted at all we would have picked him up. On the other hand he wasn’t very comfortable on his back (couldn’t sleep on back either, but slept on side instead). As a result of all the tummie time and his very physical nature and determination he was crawling at 5 months (almost to the day). I really worried that it was too soon but chose to trust him BUT did he have little choice because of tummie time? Would I do tummie time with my next bub? I don’t know. I fear that tummie time meant that he felt he had to get going in a hurry. I guess the only way of knowing would have been if we had never put him on his tummie… my guess is he still would have rolled early (he was holding his head completely by 6 weeks too…not sure but I suspect that may be on the earlier side). Just to clarify, he did play on his back a lot too as he got older (just hated it in earlier weeks) so hmm…

I’d love to hear your thoughts on our situation, when a baby is giving signals of enjoyment (I have heard of babies resisting and he certainly didn’t do that). And, on what age you would start lying them down on their own (obviously with a parent nearby)? Is this something to start from 2 weeks, 6 weeks…?

Hope that makes sense. I’d love to get some clarity on this for myself for the future.

Thanks so much.
Katinka

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21 Angela April 25, 2012

I am reading Magda Gerber’s book about the Self Confident Baby. I am confused about just letting the child be. Are we not to have any interaction with the child? He gets mad if I don’t prop him up a bit to see the world. Is he not allowed to sit on mommy and daddy’s lap? I am reading as much as I can, but I haven’t found answers to these questions yet. Thank you.

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22 Marie October 30, 2013

I am going around in circles with our pediatrician on this issue and need some guidance and reassurance. My son has developed a flat spot on the back right side of his head as his head is always in the exact same position when he sleeps/naps. I asked the doctor about it at our appointment yesterday and he said “more tummy time” . My baby just started rolling to his side and is not ready for his tummy yet, but I am not worried about hius flat spot and can’t seem to have a conversation with his doctor about it except doing tummy time. I can’t see how a few minutes several times a day on his stomach listening to him scream is going to round out his head.

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23 Lisa November 7, 2013

Marie,

I’d encourage you to listen to, and trust your baby and yourself, and to ignore the pediatrician on this one. A few minutes on his tummy several times a day isn’t going to round your son’s head, and the flat spot is not reason for concern. It will resolve itself by the time he is two years old, at the latest. What WILL make a difference in your child’s healthy physical and emotional development is allowing him plenty of free movement, and keeping him out of all “containers” (car seat, bouncy seat, swing, etc.) as much as possible. Now that he is rolling to his side for play, you may begin to see an improvement, and he is likely to be more mobile in his sleep as well. You can always try alternating which end of the crib you lay him down on, but this isn’t really necessary, either. This is not an issue you will necessarily see eye to eye upon with your pediatrician, as most Western physicians are not aware of the research that’s been done on the topic, nor are they aware of Pikler and Gerber’s philosophy and practice. You can share information and articles with your pediatrician if he’s open to discussion, seek another pediatrician, or just choose to do what you feel is best, and not discuss this with the pediatrician further. I wish you the very best.

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24 Ruth Mason December 15, 2013

Thank you, Lisa, for this wonderful article and especially the line, “It turns out nature has a plan and it’s a good one.” I’m translating it into Hebrew for the handout on Freedom of Movement that I will give my class this week. I’ll also provide the link to this article. I LOVE the baby Liv video, which I found just yesterday on Clare Karo’s site. I’m doing the class as a practicum for my RIE II — because I’m so far away from L.A., we’ve devised this as part of my training. This is my third week and I’m loving it. It’s wonderful to find such well written information on the Pikler/Gerber approach on the web.

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