The Tummy-Time “Movement”

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Advice for parents looking for the best way to do tummy-time with their baby

Tummy-Time is a Movement, not a Position 

Are you concerned about helping your baby “do tummy-time correctly?”  Perhaps instead of a perfect push-up like you’ve seen in countless baby photos, she lays with her head down and turns it side to side, or maybe she even rolls her body a bit to her side and ends up in a twist. Not only are these and other possibilities typical, a variety of movements in “tummy” position (including that “push-up”) are beneficial for your baby.  Babies learn when they experience a wide range of movements and orientations, and understanding this can help make tummy-time a happier and more beneficial experience for your baby and for you.

Your Baby is not a CubeCube Baby

Phrases like “tummy-time,” “back to sleep,” and even “side-time,” which I coined in a recent article, can imply a static posture.  Similar to the way we describe yoga postures, these ways of talking about a baby’s body imply that there is an ideal shape or position to strive for.  However,  this kind of thinking can negatively influence how we as parents interact with our babies, because babies are wired to move!

We talk about our bodies as having a front and back and sides – like a cube.  But the human body is more cylindrical than our words describe.  Can you pinpoint the exact spot where your back ends and your side begins?  There is no exact point!  While a cube can lie on one side or another for any length of time, your baby’s torso is much more of a cylinder – made to shift weight constantly in both big and small increments — and it’s beneficial to give your baby  many opportunities to do so.

Tummy-Time for Cylinders

When parents are encouraged to see tummy-time as a fixed position (and often as an exercise), rather than a position to be in and move through, they often keep their baby there too long.  They don’t encourage or even allow all of the small movements that are important for the development of balance, weight shift, and more.  I encourage parents to see tummy-time as an orientation for movement rather than a posture.

Movement and Brain Development

All of the seemingly random small movements your baby does in tummy-time are significant experiences for brain development.  The experience of these movements are necessary for your child to build coordinated and efficient movement.  In her book Kids Beyond Limits, Anat Baniel writes on the subject of what she calls “random movements,” saying, “Those random movements of the more typical baby may not seem like much at the time.  But for the child’s brain, they provide a rich flow of experiences and information that are absolutely necessary for the brain to eventually develop controlled and effective movements and actions.”

Suggestions for more Dynamic Tummy-Time:

1 Watch and touch your baby during tummy-time, not the clock.

2 Encourage babies who don’t yet lift their head to follow your voice and turn and look to the other side.

3 You can allow your baby to pass through tummy-time repeatedly – roll baby there and back again slowly. Don’t worry about  staying for a long “workout” each and every time.

4 Have small, graspable toys nearby for baby to reach for – this requires shifting weight more to one side, and will give baby important practice with movements.

5 A Child’Space class or private session can give you many ideas that are specifically appropriate for your baby.  See www.childspacenyc.com for a session in NYC.  For other locations, see the North American Child’Space site here.

Dan Rindler is a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner (’06) and a Child’Space Method Trainer, having studied with the method’s originator, Dr. Chava Shelhav.  He has worked as a staff member at the Feldenkrais Institute of NYC, and is currently in private practice in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.  Dan is the director of Child’Space NYC, a program that offers private sessions and classes throughout New York City.