Since I lived in China, I always get asked questions about what things were like living there. Including one question that is quite relevant to this topic…do other cultures do tummy time?
I’ll answer that one more fully below. 😀
My experience with tummy time was initially something I’d just read about in all the baby books while I was still pregnant. And while I was still pregnant, I connected with other expat mamas who were either pregnant with their second child or already had a little one running about.
It was these mamas, including my breastfeeding coach, Vivien, who gave me more details about tummy time. I often wonder if I’d mastered Chinese better if I’d have encountered more Chinese women that engaged in tummy time.
Asking my mother-in-law was out of the question, for the older generation seems to have little clue in following safety tips for children. I don’t want to come across as judgmental, but the number of high-rise buildings there with windows that open without any safety features to protect small children or pets from falling to their doom is purely alarming.
Is it OK to say no to tummy time, though?
Someone asked me this recently and I felt that I should further go over the importance of tummy time. The benefits of tummy time far outweigh anything else, so let me dive right into today’s topic.
Is tummy time necessary?
You’ll find that the importance of tummy time does more for your child than skipping it. One of the benefits of tummy time is that it helps prevent flat spots on the head. When babies constantly lay on their backs, especially in the same positions, they can have flat heads.
I should point out that in China, having a flat head is considered a thing of beauty. I’m not making this up! Much like the old foot-binding, flatheads are also beautiful. There are key differences to the point where manufacturers have to tweak helmets, hats, and other things to different dimensions for Asians and Americans to accommodate the head size.
My friend’s Chinese wife, who spoke excellent English, once told me it makes the head bigger. And a bigger head is apparently better. I don’t know if my husband agrees, especially when we tease him that his head is blocking the TV.
Some say that tummy time is unnecessary, but I’m going with what most pediatricians say about the subject…yes, it IS necessary. However, there are other positions you can try with your baby that will help keep them from flat spots and build muscles to change things up a bit. If you read my article about baby hating tummy time, you’ll learn how to work with a baby that hates tummy time and keep them from having a flat head.
What is the purpose of tummy time?
I mentioned one of the benefits of tummy time above. That’s to keep those flat spots from forming on the back of your baby’s head. The technical term for that is plagiocephaly.
And aside from aesthetics, whether you think a flat head is downright beautiful or not, the importance of tummy time is also for developing important muscle strength. Babies are not born with strong neck and shoulder muscles. Developing these key muscles can help your baby sit up and strengthen their core, which will support ALL their movements.
Additionally, those muscles will help them to crawl and walk properly.
And then there are motor skills! A necessary thing to develop for even the most basic of tasks.
So no tummy time? I disagree. I think the importance of tummy time outweighs anything else. But please, ask your pediatrician if you want to say no to tummy time. Listen to a medical expert tell you why you should do it.
And just to be clear, tummy time isn’t putting your baby on their tummy and walking away for hours. You should be right there with your baby. From the newborn days after that umbilical cord stump falls off, you should aim to do about 3 sessions a day that lasts a few seconds to minutes, watching the comfort level of your child.
Some babies really hate tummy time, which is why I posted my last article. But please keep in mind that some babies hate baths. My eldest screamed and cried during her baths. My husband and I were terrified of bathing her alone.
We would always bathe her together, one of us holding her and the other one of us washing and rinsing her. She freaked out every time until I asked Vivien what I was doing wrong. She suggested singing and putting on a happy face even if I was terrified inside.
Babies can sense your fear, believe me. So once we started doing that, guess what? She didn’t cry anymore, and she loved bath time. We did the same thing with tummy time, and she didn’t cry then either.
Do other cultures do tummy time?
Ah, here’s the million-dollar question! No, they do not.
Why? Simple! Because other cultures tend to wear their babies more than most Americans do. We’re a stroller-pushing people over here.
In China, I wore my babies everywhere until my back was about to break. Then we got a really lightweight umbrella stroller. Then my eldest got a taste for being let out of the stroller, and she NEVER wanted to sit in it ever again, causing us to go nuts every time we went anywhere.
Imagine a child grabbing everything possible from the shelves of the store. That was us.
Anyway, because parents in other countries wear their babies more, the babies move the neck muscles while the upright position helps with the stomach muscles. In cultures that wear babies, you won’t see tummy time happening.
Can babies roll without tummy time?
Well, that depends if you’re helping them build strength in other ways like wearing them or doing the things I mentioned in my other article.
Generally speaking, when your baby can lift her head and looks like she’s doing little pushups, it won’t be long before she tolls over. At first, it will be tummy to back, usually around the age of 4 months. Some babies even seem surprised when they do it, which is pretty darn cute.
As for the back to belly roll, that takes more strength and coordination to master. By 6 months, most babies will start rolling front to back and back to front. And when they do, they will become more mobile.
While there is a wide range of normal for this, if your baby hasn’t rolled over by the age of 7 months, it’s something to discuss with your pediatrician. A lot of things come into play here. If your baby was born prematurely, she might take a little longer than her full-term counterparts.
Tummy time is encouraged to help build the muscles and strength it takes to roll over. If your baby isn’t building these muscles, a flat head won’t be the worst of your problems. It will be the slowed development. Lying on their tummies in a wakeful state, perhaps after a diaper change or nap, gives them an activity.
And babies need activities. Yes, even though they really do nothing but poop, eat, and sleep. This activity is a simple way to do the best for your baby.
For more tummy time related questions and answers, click here.
Signs that the baby needs more tummy time
Another question I received recently was in regards to how to know if you’re giving your baby enough tummy time. I think that’s an excellent question!
If you notice any of the following, start doing more tummy time…
Have you ever seen a baby with a helmet on? They’re wearing it to correct the flatness. Not enough tummy time is linked to delayed motor skills and misshapen heads. Part of this is because parents were so worried about SIDS and putting their babies on their backs to prevent it.
Tummy time will help, though when your baby is sleeping or napping, put her on her back and turn her head slightly to one side. Alternate the side each day to give her head balance and symmetry.
- Motor skill troubles
No tummy time or not enough of it can make your child late on milestones. Again, there’s a big normal range, but your pediatrician can tell you more about this. Tummy time helps with posture control, balance, and coordination. It also encourages your baby to be emotionally healthy by becoming more independent to explore their world.
- Tilting head
Positional torticollis, the technical term, is when your baby’s head tilts to one side or she has trouble lifting it while on her belly. This condition develops when babies don’t get enough tummy time, though I’m not trying to send you into a panic. It isn’t a guarantee your baby will have this condition, but the AAP strongly recommends that you help them build the strength they need by making time for tummy time.
- Vision delays
No tummy time can also delay visual progression. Babies that don’t spend enough time during this exercise will have trouble tracking objects with their eyes, a major milestone. Babies that do tummy time look around them everywhere.
Before they first crawl, they take in everything around them. They use their head to turn and look and track perhaps the family dog walking across the room.
- Tummy troubles
Does your baby seem gassy often? Babies still have growing digestive systems. Even the best baby may have some tummy troubles here and there, but tummy time is wonderful for digestive issues because it can help them release trapped gas.
By putting your baby on her belly on a mat during tummy time, this simple move puts very gentle pressure on the abdomen. This naturally moves gas out of the way and makes for a happier baby.
A final word on tummy time…
Tummy time won’t take up much of your day. Babies seem more exhausted than moms when they first enter the real world. Building it up each day can be fun too. As they grow, they become more fascinated with things around them.
Some toys make the tummy time fun and engaging for newborns and babies. You can certainly try them out. As for no tummy time, I think listening to this sound medical advice is a crucial way to avoid developmental delays and give your child the best start.
And if your child’s screaming during this exercise is too much to bear, again, check out the other methods that will build strength for your child without traditionally doing tummy time!
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.