A Second Look at Adult Initiated Tummy Time for Infants

Armed with a Certificate of Completion in RIE I Theory and Observation freshly inked in 1998 by my Instructor Carol Pinto and Director Magda Gerber I set forth to convert parent-by-parent to the RIE (pronounced “wry”) way of respecting an infant’s free movement and placing babies on their backs.

When confronted with recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics or a doctor’s advise for tummy time for exercise, I simply advised parents to trust their child and reiterated the words I recalled Magda saying,  “The best position for a baby is that which she can get into or out of all by herself.”  For me, a young and enthused caregiver with no children of my own, this was enough.

My resolve hung true those first few months after my son was born.   At first I questioned my pediatrician on the merits of tummy time (mostly endorsed as a means to exercise or strengthen the neck) and was comforted by my observations of my child.  Clearly he was able to move from the supine position almost every inch of his body from the tip of his big toe, to a twist in the torso, a stretch of his arm, grasping, blinking, turning about.. He was a whirl of movement.  To me, it seemed that my doctor’s advise for more exercise by restricting my son in a prone position were unwarranted.  Eventually, I kept my thoughts to myself and vowed never to do Tummy Time.

Since then, I’ve learned that as a parent never to say NEVER.

Pretty soon all of the other little babies in my son’s infant room began to turn over.  “Infants always do what they can do- and they should not be expected to do what they are not ready for,”  Magda’s advise in her book Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect (p. 53) seemed directed at me- so I waited.  And then the other babies began scooting about, pushing up on the knees and one even sat up on her own.  There laid my son merrily on his back, kicking and grinning away seemingly unmotivated to roll over on his stomach at all.

He was being left behind-  was this because I hadn’t given him TUMMY TIME?!

Eleven years later I can smile at how dramatic having a slow to roll over baby was to me.  But when I reflect on my feelings at the time, I am reminded of thoughts of anxiety, uncertainty, fear and the need for reassurance. Secretly, I longed for an opportunity to try out tummy time for myself- could such a thing so widely advocated be of  permanent consequence?

While I managed to resist the urge myself- the questioned lingered.  It wasn’t until last night via a Resources for Infant Educarers webinar that I gained a much clearer and broader perspective of possible longterm ramifications to an infant’s physical, cognitive, and emotional well-being the use of Tummy Time presents.

Faced with many of the same pressures we are today in regards to tummy time, Dr. Judit Falk, former Director of the Pikler Institute,  set out to determine if adult initiated tummy time for infants was necessary for a baby’s health and well-being.  Her findings as published by the Official Journal of Hungarian Pediatrics Association had- or I should say, has– just been translated in English.  In it Dr. Falk documents her research on the topic of Tummy Time spanning some forty years.  Her conclusion:  “…newborn babies and young infants SHOULD NOT be laid on their stomach.  Neither for sleeping, nor during the day when awake, because it would deprive them of the important conditions of their psychomotor, mental and emotional development.” (Gyermekgyogyaszat 2011, 62 Supplementum A, p. 12).

For those who have dedicated their life’s work in advocating Magda Gerber’s RIE Approach in the field of early childhood education be it center based care, as parent guides and facilitators, in higher education or towards efforts to effect policy change- this presents further validation to that which we witness with our own eyes in observing the infant at play on his back.

Could pediatricians and the AAP be wrong in their advise for tummy time?  Certainly Dr. Falk’s research deserves consideration to the affirmative and a second look at adult initiated tummy time.


Falk, Judit: Gyermekgyogyaszat Child and Youth Medical Journal, Supplementaum A May 2011

Gerber, Magda: Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect 2002

Gerber, Magda: Your Self-Confident Baby 1998

Hammond, Ruth Anne: Respecting Babies: A New Look at Magda Gerber’s RIE Approach 2009

Kovach, Beverly: Being with Babies: Understanding and Responding to the Infants in Your Care  2008




7 thoughts on “A Second Look at Adult Initiated Tummy Time for Infants”

  1. I think we do a lot of things — “sensory tubs,” tummy time, etc. — as if our kids are in some sort of special setting, like in daycare all day without sufficient staff or attention, or who have special needs of some sort, rather than just taking care of them as they move about naturally and explore the room.

    My degree is in child dev. and I worked with toddlers and infants (and olders) for years before becoming a stay at home mom, and some of these techniques *are* good for kids who are in those special situations, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessary across the board.

    Some parents leave their kids parked in infant seats a lot, some don’t take them outside much, and those are, for now, special situations, but I think just teaching parents to give their kids more natural and mobile lives is more sensible than things like “tummy time.”

    1. I appreciate your insights. In many cases having a rigid rule in regard to meeting the individual needs of young children is cause for concern. And I think you’d agree, prescribing tummy time to the general infant population should also cause question. Thank you so much for your ideas and dialogue- we share similar backgrounds… I wonder, are you familiar with RIE (www.rie.org)? This organization was founded to support parents in developing their family best practice in raising authentic, capable babies. When I was a stay-at-home mom, I was able to organize a play group based on the approach. Was a win-win for me.

  2. I did do a bit of “tummy time” with my middle child, but she hated it. Looking back, I can’t believe I kept trying. After hearing how important it was, I felt it was only right to do. But, with my son, I just never did. I knew he didn’t like to be on him tummy, so I didn’t worry about what I was “suppose” to do. Instead, I carried him upright in a wrap where he was able to gain control of his head at his own rate without flattening his head by always being on his back. There was a lot less stress for him and for me. I wish I had trusted my instincts with my daughter and not the “experts”.

  3. As an anthropologist who has studied and taught cross-cultural child dev’t, I was skeptical about tummy time and uncomfortable watching my mother-in-law try to put my obviously unhappy new (and first) baby into they position. It is certainly not observed cross-culturally nor a natural position for a baby. I won’t be doing it with our soon-to-arrive baby, unless extenuating circumstances suggest it is warranted.

  4. Great post. I too second-guessed my decision to wait for my daughter to roll to her belly herself. And, of course, it was such an amazing experience to see her do it. Well worth the wait? I’m wondering about Dr. Falk’s research — I would love to see it but couldn’t find it on the Pikler website. Do you have a link to it? I am a Feldenkrais practitioner and I’m often stunned by the combined lack of good explanation for tummy time and the adamant adherence to it as a necessity.

    1. I received my hard copy of Dr. Falk’s work via Laura Briley, President of PIKLER USA. You can reach her via http://www.piklerusa.org- I believe. Let me know if unable, and I will try to dig up my reference for you. It’s enlightening- as is all of the research that has come from the good people of Pikler- especially around free movement.

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