Rethinking parent-led interventions in the first year

“Do less. Observe more. Enjoy most.” -Madga Gerber

Every mama wants to do right by their baby. It’s only natural to want what’s best for them. So when our paediatrician gives us advice, most of us perk up and listen.

But it’s hard for me not to question some of the recommendations made by Liv’s doctor, and other baby ‘experts’. I’ve already talked at length about having a natural pregnancy in my previous blog posts, which meant that I chose to bypass some of the medical interventions I deemed unnecessary for us. Now that Liv is here, I’m still trying to do as much natural parenting as possible. To me, that means letting Liv develop in her own way, in her own time.

Which brings me to tummy time. Babies hate it, doctors recommend it, we avoid it.

Doctors promote tummy time to strengthen the baby’s head, neck, and upper body. Google “tummy time”. The first thing that comes up is a recommendation to do it up to 10 times a day (!!!!) right from birth. This despite that most babies hate tummy time at the beginning, and often cry, completely frustrated and unable to move, as their heads are buried into a blanket.

The issue that I have against tummy time is that it forces Liv into a position that she, and her body, aren’t ready for.

I strongly believe in child-led learning. All children develop in the exact same sequence, albeit, in their own time. Which means that all babies will turn over onto their tummies all by themselves. They will become comfortable being in this position. They will master this position and move on to the mastering the next one. All they need to be able to do this is time.

From Dr. Emmi Pickler, the sequence in which all children will develop naturally if given the time and space. Note that when a baby isn’t artificially placed in a sitting position (ie: propped up against pillows) crawling is learnt before sitting!

When babies are allowed to develop naturally, in their own time and in their own way, they learn to move with ease and grace. When you put a baby on his or her tummy before they are able to get into that position on their own, you force there body to do something their muscles, and nervous system, aren’t strong enough for yet.

“But isn’t that the point of tummy time?” you might ask?

No. Child development isn’t a race. What’s more important than how early they reach a milestone (like turning onto their belly) is that they do it correctly. We’re told that tummy time strengthens their back muscles. The truth is tummy time is far more effective at bypassing muscles completely. The muscles the baby would have used to turn herself onto her tummy don’t get activated at all if adults are constantly placing the baby on her tummy for her.

The actual act of getting from their back to their tummy (a process that takes months) mobilizes and strengthens the muscles they need to support them there. They first move their heads from side to side, then they move their legs up, they explore their hands, with help from their legs they roll to their sides, they lift their head a tiny amount, they often roll back onto their back, and finally, when ready, from side to tummy. If you allow your baby the time she needs for this process, countless tiny movements will take place in preparation for rolling onto her belly. Many more muscles are strengthened by the act of getting there, than by actually being in that position.

This isn’t something I made up. This is in line with the Emmi Pickler approach. It values free movement and not placing children into positions they can’t come into on their own.

“Every time we put an infant in a position she cannot change all by herself, we deprive her from moving freely. So she feels passive, helpless, and less confident.”

So no tummy time for us. We also don’t prop Liv up into a sitting position. We avoid all chairs, bumbos, bouncers, swings, and her car seat when not driving. She can’t sit on her own yet, so it doesn’t make sense to me to place her in a position she can’t support herself in.

So what do we do?

Liv spends hours each day lying on her back. When we aren’t holding her, she’s happily lying on the floor, able to move freely. She explores her hands, curls her toes, stretches her body out, turns her head from side to side, takes breaks when she needs them, and gets to know her body and her environment. Liv loves it. She has no toys yet because she doesn’t need them. She coos happily for up to an hour straight, completely occupied with her body and own intrinsic desire to learn. We don’t need to intervene.

Each little movement she makes helps prepare her for her next milestone. When we trust nature and allow children to develop in their own time,  the results are beautiful to watch. 

 

A couple links about tummy time, and the Emmi Pickler approach: