The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends daily Tummy Time. Others say don’t put babies in it until they can roll into it on their own. Many babies are uncomfortable in it. What to make of all these messages?!

Each offers a valuable principle at its core:

  • Tummy Time allows reflexes to open and natural movement development to occur
  • We disempower children when we prop or put them into positions they can’t get into on their own
  • Babies are uncomfortable for a reason and we need to listen

Let’s re-define Tummy Time, from an Infant Developmental Movement Education perspective.

Why is Tummy Time important?

Many babies enjoy Tummy Time!

Much about development is triggered by being on the belly. Many babies get less of it these days, partly because of sleeping on their backs (for SIDS safety) and being propped in seats and standers. When babies don’t visit Tummy Time, problems can develop.

Tummy Time isn’t just about being active. It’s just as much about resting! (There’s actually a reflex for it: “Tonic Labyrynthine.”) Many sources mention movement benefits, like lifting the head and arm strength, but miss this important factor! We can’t move off the earth efficiently until we’ve released into its support (“yielding”).

What’s even more immediate than being in Tummy Time?

Two things, as my colleague Lenore Grubinger and I like to discuss. Address these, and Tummy Time emerges as a natural option:

  • How Baby gets into Tummy Time
  • Lying on all four sides

How Baby gets into Tummy Time

Just put the baby on his tummy, right? No, please don’t! It’s the only way many folks know, but this very act is related to much Tummy Time distress, and therefore the perception that infants don’t like it.

Make it adult-sized. Imagine someone’s holding you and moving you face-first toward the floor. What the… is about to happen to me? All systems on alert! I was not expecting this! I don’t know how I got into this, and how will I get out of it? Startle reflex, engage! Protection! Nervous system on alert, now!

Sound fun? Being brought tummy-ward to the floor can induce the startle reflex, which heightens adrenaline, retracts the shoulder blades, and has the infant in a state of alarm before even touching the floor. Then crying happens to release emotion and stress chemicals. It’s uncomfortable because one needs one’s arms useable in Tummy Time, not stuck backwards in startle.

How, then, to get into Tummy Time?

By utilizing the pathway Baby will use, bypassing startle, moving at Baby’s pace, and being down on the floor with him.

  • Begin by holding Baby in a ball (flexion)
  • Place him on his side on the floor in this ball (including head/neck in flexion), so he doesn’t startle
  • Pause, and slowly roll him onto his tummy (see my last post for what to do about that stuck arm)
  • Use this every time you want to put Baby down, including onto his back.

Being on all four sides

3-dimensional orientation is natural. Back-lying-only is not “natural.” Neither is only-tummy-time! Putting babies into positions they can’t get into and out of by themselves can be disempowering. However, there is no one body surface that’s more “natural” than others; we just tend to be back-lying-focused as a society.

It is greatly important to experience all sides: for balance/inner ear, proprioception (where I am in relation to gravity), spatial awareness, preparation for falling, and milestones like independent sitting. The back, tummy, and both sides are all important surfaces to know.

“Bottom” line?

Respect babies as humans. Encourage being, resting, and playing in all orientations to gravity. When handling them, mimic how they’ll do it themselves. If Baby protests, there’s a reason, so please don’t push it. Regarding the tummy, this is usually a signal that something is probably uncomfortable and needs support, rather than that Tummy Time itself is a bad thing. Think of Tummy Time more as a place to be, less as a thing to do.


Eliza Parker is a certified Infant Developmental Movement Educator®, Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, Feldenkrais® Practitioner, and Spiritual Counselor. She also uses Aletha Solter’s Aware Parenting.

© Elizabeth Parker 2012, All Rights Reserved (Links are welcome. If you’d like to share my post in your blog or materials, please ask permission.)