We know we should do it. We are told it’s easy. We think the name is cute. We dream about it as bonding time between us and our babies. But, let’s be honest. We struggle with tummy time. Tummy time is one of those things that feels either stressful or boring. We do it because we should, similar to exercising or vacuuming. We talk about tummy time rhetorically in an “of course we do tummy time” context, but we rarely disclose the negative details of our tummy time experiences. Our closed-door tummy time culture has generated a pretentious air of judgement for parents who lack innate baby handling skills, even though most of us have little to no experience with babies before we become parents. We feel inadequate, especially when we ask questions or admit that we struggle; we fear the judgement of others when we can’t do tummy time, even when we are proud that we made it through the day. Our society does not readily offer evidence-based tummy time information, resources, or professional support, which clouds its importance and adds to its mystery. Parents should not have the sole responsibility of tummy time. We need to acknowledge the obstacles of tummy time and recognize that a radical shift in the tummy time process is required to overcome them.
We don’t know what we are doing.
We don’t even know why we’re doing it. Yes, we know that tummy time is good for our child’s development, but we don’t know what that actually means. Part of our unenlightenment is that we don’t have access to a consistent tummy time curriculum. We can find tummy time experts if we know where to search and who to search for, but most of us rely on Google, our friends, and our parents for quick answers. The mishmash of unreliable comments we receive adds to our skepticism and conjures feelings of isolation. At no fault of our own, our society lacks a ubiquitous tummy time method, benchmark, and technique. This leaves us floundering, second guessing, and doubting our parenting skills. Is this right? Is this important? What are other parents doing?
We have anxiety.
We think tummy time is risky. Our increased awareness of SIDS via the Back to Sleep campaign has saved lives, but it has also planted the seed that tummy time can be dangerous. Parents will not take any additional risks with our babies, which means that when given the choice between tummy time and back-lying, we choose the latter. Not only this, but we feel anxious during tummy time. We are pained as our babies to struggle on their bellies. Allowing our babies to cry brings our insecurities as parents to the forefront until we terminate tummy time by picking them up. Over time, we doubt whether or not tummy time is doing any good or just causing emotional damage.
We justify what we are doing.
We are doing the best we can. We feel like our babies are hitting their milestones, regardless of whether or not we implement tummy time. Even if we are not sure what those milestones are, we assume our child is developing appropriately. We try as hard as we can and do as much as we can for our babies; we give them everything we have. Even if we don’t do tummy time, we love them, care for them, and keep them safe. We justify our inactions with the consolation that this is enough.
We can’t do one more thing.
We are sleep deprived and overwhelmed. For most of us, getting dressed before noon is a reason to celebrate; we cannot fit one more thing into our day. When we do have a spare moment, we need time to ourselves. Tummy time feels disposable compared to the massive responsibility of keeping our babies alive and happy. As a result, it is at the end of our to-do list and the first to be nixed.
We are alone.
Our support system is from a distance. We don’t have the luxury of passing our babies to relatives and friends throughout the day, which means that the responsibility of tummy time falls on us. Because when our inner circle does not interact with our babies on a daily basis, their advice is once removed, and when they do visit, they focus on developing their relationship with our babies rather than tummy time. Rightly so, but this showcases our singularity. We are the ones responsible for our child’s daily development and so we are the ones who do tummy time.
We can put our babies in carriers.
We have so many things to put our babies in. Car seats, swings, bouncers, walkers, strollers, and Bumpos. We have one for each occasion in an effort to keep our babies happy. We are told through media that we need to entertain our babies and push their development forward with equipment, but we should instead do things the old-fashioned way. Babies do not need lights and pop up animals to be happy and they certainly do not need to sit up at month two. They need to be put on the ground so they can develop on their own.
We don’t know who to ask.
If we think there is an issue with our babies’ development, we ask the pediatrician. The risk is that many pediatricians recommend a wait-and-see approach, which can further potential developmental gaps. If we want direct help and support, we can research seasoned pediatric therapists and specialists, but to find the right professional, we have to know someone who knows someone who recommends someone in a field that we may or may not have heard of. This is a tedious process, especially for newborn parents.
We aren’t given any information.
Tummy time is assumed. Before we can leave the hospital with our babies, we are given tons of information about everything from car seats to vaccinations, but very little information about tummy time. On the day we are discharged from the hospital, the doctor says something like, “make sure you do tummy time.” Not surprisingly, these types of blanket statements do not register with parents who are on autopilot. Our take away message from the hospital is that tummy time is one of these things we sort of have to do, sort of don’t.
The problem is that tummy time is extremely important. The absence of tummy time is a contributing factor to the rise in sensory processing disorders, autism spectrum disorder, and other neurobiological disorders like ADHD. During the first six months of life, tummy time develops core strength, functional vision, breath, self-regulation, and the integration of primitive reflexes. These are the foundational skills upon which every other skill is built; tummy time can help to prevent developmental delays and processing disorders later on, which makes tummy time one of the most important factors of child development. The issue is that many parents are not aware of its significance.
We need to talk honestly about tummy time. We need to openly ask questions and discuss our experiences. We need tummy time professionals. Women’s health practitioners, pediatricians, and occupational therapists should be collectively answering our questions and providing support. Before parents are discharged from the hospital with their newborns, these professionals should talk to parents about what tummy time is, its impact on development, provide multiple demonstrations, and require parents to practice it. After this, parents should be referred to therapists who offer accessible tummy time classes.
As a society, we need tummy time education. We deserve it and our babies deserve it. If we advocate for this as a group, we can ease the transition of mothers and fathers into parenthood while ensuring the appropriate development of the next generation.