At CalmFamily we seek to understand our baby, their development and their needs so that we can work with them at the stage they are at, and support their natural development. There are so many examples of industries telling us that we need to do things to and for our babies to help them develop, but mostly, with a natural level of interaction and care babies develop those skills in their own time, we could put in place an Olympic style training regime, and they probably won’t develop the ability to crawl or walk any faster.
So, what is all the fuss about tummy time?
I will let you in on a secret. My second baby had no tummy time on the floor at all. Not until he rolled there himself. Why not? Because he hated it! Crying is communication, it is one of the last forms of communication babies use to tell you they are distressed and by the time they are screaming, they are usually pretty annoyed that you hadn’t got the message earlier. He has turned out OK so far, he sat at 5 months, crawled at 8 months and walked at 11 months. His older brother also walked at 11 months, but didn’t crawl until 12 months, even though he had a lot more formal tummy time!
What we did do
We also held him a lot. That’s right, holding a baby upright against your chest in arms or in a sling also gives them ample opportunity to work those muscles supporting their shoulders, neck and head, and their back muscles, again, with all the benefits of a snuggly and beloved carer to snuggle into when they are tired! A good and well-adjusted carrier supports the spine of a baby, and allows their head to rest on you when relaxed, but gives them freedom to support their own head, look around and change position when alert. We advocate keeping baby’s hands up by their face from birth as this allows them to suck on them, but it also allows them to use their arms to help them to reposition themselves and to push against you to shift themselves.
We also allowed him time lying on his back, usually with us, or his brother chatting to him and engaging with him, so that he had the chance to use this new strength of his to develop his moves. On the floor he had the chance to kick about and roll, and once they learn to roll, they are usually developmentally ready to lift their heads happily in tummy time on the floor. And usually learning to roll back comes pretty quickly on its tail, because they already have all the muscles needed to get them into that position, and they are practicing the coordination to get back out again. Once they have the skills to get themselves out of tummy time, onto their back, then the real fun starts, because when they don’t feel trapped on their tummies they are much happier exploring whatever it is they are on or near. And that is when they start fixing their sights on the next goal, which is bringing a knee up and beginning to push into a seated position.
So, why does everyone tell me about tummy time?
So, if what babies need is a range of positions, including, but not limited to, time spent lying on their back unrestricted with freedom to move, do we need to be strict about tummy time? Not really, as I have mentioned above, there are plenty of ways to allow different positions without putting a baby facedown on the floor. In addition to carrying in arms, carrying in a sling, and lying them on our chest, we can also prop a baby on our legs, so that their face is not near the floor, but their arms can push up on our legs, we can lie them on a table, with us there with them all the time, so their view is off the table and not faceplanting into the floor. This can also be a comfy way for us to sit with them at their level so they can still engage during tummy time, or we can get down on the floor with them if the floor is the easiest way for us to allow them to have some tummy time.
Tummy Time is now routinely advocated by Health Visitors from 6 weeks, which is pretty young. At 6 weeks a lot of babies are at the stage where, if placed on their fronts, they are just lifting their head for it to fall straight back down again. It isn’t something I would like. To be honest I still hate yoga poses that have me lying with my face flat on the floor and I can definitely support my head well enough to get out of them. The difference in the development of muscle groups and coordination that is going on once a baby has mastered rolling from their back onto their tummy is huge. They usually have much greater strength in their arms and their necks by this point, and are getting much better at coordinating the movement of their arms to achieve a purpose, like rolling over, and lifting their head, and they have mostly developed this naturally by looking around and starting to follow faces as they move around the room whilst someone holds them, or by watching the flow of conversaion – have you noticed how babies look at the person speaking, then often turn their head to look at the conversation partner to watch for their response before they even start to speak- that is quite a workout for these little babies, and shows how quickly they pick up on adjacency pairs- the turn-taking element of speech development!- but I digress, needless to say, holding your baby whilst you chat with your partner or other children is providing a great chance for your baby to work those muscles!
I am not suggesting that you should wear your baby in a sling 24/7 or carry them in your arms 24/7 or leave them on their back 24/7. The magic is in the balance, holding babies upright works their muscles, lying them on your chest or over your legs allows them to lift their head against gravity, and it can start in a sloped position with you reclined upright to make it less challenging, and develop to you lying flat on your back with a baby on your chest. Giving them time on their back helps them learn about their weight, and how to shift it, one limb at a time, and then all together, and, if you wish to, and your baby is happy to cooperate thenby all means try tummy time on the floor.
Putting children in positions that they cannot yet achieve themselves is placing our agenda on them rather than allowing them to pursue their own development in their natural progression, first developing the muscles needed to get into a position, then developing those to get them back out of it, and on into the next position. The “Baby Liv” video shows this well and can help you to see how the movement that babies develop prior to moving onto their tummies can really help with the strength needed once they finally make it to tummy time by rolling there themselves.
So, in short, if you are giving your baby time in a range of positions, including free time on the floor, unrestrained, and in your arms, and, if you choose, in a sling, then you are providing them with the conditions needed to develop their muscles, and they will learn to do all the things babies learn to do without the need for prescriptive tummy time on a mat on the floor. So do what feels right to you, and if you and your baby are not enjoying formal tummy time, feel confident that you can find other ways that work for you both to allow them to develop and meet all of the milestones we look for in our little ones.
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