Since 1992, parents have been urged to put their infants to sleep on their backs, instead of on their bellies, in an effort to reduce the rate of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Concern that lack of experience in the prone position would delay infant development soon led to the recommendation that a baby be given daily Tummy Time – and, no surprise, to the proliferation of mats, gyms and toys for sale.
Disagreement arose from developmental movement specialists who adamantly believe babies should not be placed on the belly until they discover it on their own. Renowned infant specialist Magda Gerber promoted inner-directed, self-initated free play for all babies – and it’s hard not to agree with her premise.
Even within the Feldenkrais community, my own colleagues, there are strong differences of opinion on the practice of Tummy Time, or ‘intervening’ by taking active steps to support an infant in their exploration of turning over.
Numerous studies have questioned the effects of sleep and play position on infant development, even if they have not measured the quality of these motor skills, and generally find that the babies ultimately achieve motor milestones within an acceptable age range.
And, as writer Nicholas Day is quick to point out in his book “Baby Meets World”, history and culture have always played a unique role in determining what’s the ‘right’ way to raise a baby.
It’s actually the cultural consideration that drives my own decision to promote prone play between parent and baby. Whether an ‘at-risk’ family or one that’s more secure, my clients have virtually all been instructed by their healthcare provider to include Tummy Time. The staff members I encounter in daycare facilities are all required to include time on the belly for their charges. At home, the busy parent often has little time or energy to promote floor play, and the home is often packed with just about every rocker, swing, chair, and play station on the market. This is the culture that I interact with daily, so I try to bridge the gap between what they are being told to do, the influence of the baby industry, and the movement experiences that benefit the baby’s development.
In Child’Space, we teach parents that time on the tummy can be part of floor time play that includes proprioceptive touch and face-to-face interaction, explores the process of turning to the side, and delights in the shared discovery of a shift to the belly. The reciprocal nurturing between parent and baby that results is a joy to behold, a fundamental bonding step that promotes a secure attachment.
Barbara Leverone, MA, Certified Child’Space Practitioner and Trainer, Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner