Tummy time — the practice of placing your infant on their stomach for a few minutes at a time — is typically one of a baby’s first exercises, often used as a way to build muscle strength in their neck, back, and shoulders. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least 15 to 30 minutes total daily by 7 weeks of age, with that number increasing as an infant continues to grow.
If a child doesn’t particularly warm to the idea of being placed on their stomach, tummy time “requirements” can quickly become a stressor on a parent worried about their child’s muscles and mobility.
But one American mom on TikTok, who gave birth to both her children in France, recently revealed that tummy time with babies is “not a thing” in the country; both of her pediatricians were confused as to why the new mom was even asking about it.
“I had multiple professionals being like, ‘You shouldn’t be putting your baby in uncomfortable positions especially if they’re not already getting themselves into that position. If they’re rolling over onto their tummy, that’s one thing, but if you putting them in positions that they aren’t able to get into naturally is developmentally inappropriate,” she said.
After that video went viral, Dr. Bonnie Soto, a pediatric physical therapist and a mom herself, made her own video about tummy time, reminding parents that yes, it’s something recommended in America. But there are many ways to help a baby build muscle.
“Okay, have you seen that video by now of the mom who had two babies in France and she brought up tummy time to the pediatricians there and they were like, ‘No, no, no, no, we don't do that. Don't put your baby in positions that they can't get into on their own. Tummy time is not a thing’?” she asked.
“You know, if you live here in the United States, if you've been around my page for a while, that tummy time is a big thing, and it is important, but I don't think in the way that people understand.”
Soto explains that the idea behind tummy time really took off after the “Back To Sleep” campaign started gaining popularity.
“Babies were getting lots of short little bouts of tummy time throughout the day when they were laid down to sleep. There were babies sleeping on their belly. They'd wake up, press up and look around for a hot second, and people would move on,” she continued.
She explains that once the parents were told that babies cannot be placed on their bellies for sleep under any circumstances, parents began to take that notion into their everyday. Soon, parents were placing their kids in swings, bounce chairs, playpens, etc.
“People were kind of like overcompensating, overreacting there too and not placing them on their bellies for play either, probably out of fear,” she explained. “This kind of like uptick to the amount of time that babies were spending in containers because they could keep them on their backs there. So. we saw a huge increase in torticollis and plegeosephaly.”
Torticollis, also known as wryneck, is a condition where a baby’s neck muscles cause their head to twist and tilt to once side. Plagiocephaly develops when an infant's soft skull becomes flattened in one area, due to repeated pressure on one part of the head.
Soon enough, tummy time was being recommended by pediatricians with guidelines of how much and how long to practice the activity.
“I think parents get really stressed out about it,” Soto said. “Then it becomes this big to-do, like, ‘Oh my god — I have to fit tummy time in,’ and parents are being told things like your baby has to do an hour of tummy time a day. Oh my gosh, that's crazy.”
Instead of regimented tummy time activity on the floor, Soto suggests other ways that parents can get in that muscle strengthening time without having to stress about their baby screaming on the floor during an often-despised physical activity.
“Roll in to tummy time after a diaper change for a few minutes and you can sit and chit chat with them. Your baby needs to like snuggle you on your chest and take a nap, take a contact nap, get in the baby carrier, or just lay there and chit chat in your face as you're leaning back. Those are like all part of a tummy time program,” she said.
“Your baby needs free, unrestricted movement,” she added. “They need connection with you. You just holding your baby, snuggling them, moving them around in different positions is good for their development.”
As for Soto’s thoughts about French pediatricians and their thoughts about tummy time, she’s calling a little bit of B.S.
“Babies are entirely dependent on us for their positioning,” she said. “So, this whole idea that we shouldn't be putting them in positions that they can't get into themselves... they can't get into any positions by themselves. So, that's baloney,” she said.
Though Soto still believes in the important of tummy time, she also notes that the act of building a child’s neck muscles, back, and shoulders should not be a stressful event for parents and babies alike.
“Babies should not be uncomfortable in tummy time. They shouldn't be crying and fussing. You shouldn't have to force them to do it,” she concluded.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, tummy time is essential for a baby’s muscle development. Pediatricians recommend that by about 2 months of age, babies get 15 to 30 minutes of total tummy time daily. Baby hating tummy time? Place yourself or a toy in reach for them to play with.