“Are you giving her Tummy Time?” I asked.
“No, but she hates Tummy Time. The moment I put her on her tummy, she starts to cry. I can’t bear to see her cry.” She continued, “She really, really hates it. She looks like he’s in pain.”
This is a frequent conversation I have with parents. Infants who sleep on their tummies have a higher incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), with the lowest incidence of SIDS occurring when infants are placed on their back to sleep. As a result, parents have been encouraged to place their infants on their back while asleep. In fact, since 1994, there is a popular “Back To Sleep” Campaign (http://www.nichd.nih.gov/sids/). The downside is that babies are spending less time on their tummies while awake. This could result in a developmental delay of some milestones. Most commonly, when there isn’t enough Tummy Time, I often see a developmental delay of certain milestones; those infants often do not roll over between 4 and 5 months old, do not sit up between 6 and 7 months old, and may not crawl around the age of 9 months old either.
But how do you allow your baby to cry? I have to admit. It’s hard. Personally, I hated to see my baby cry, but I knew I had to do it. So, what’s a mommy doc to do? Time it! That’s right. I broke out a wristwatch and timed his tummy time. I figured I could bear the crying for 5 minutes. Then, I wouldn’t feel guilty. Then, once he’d accept 5 minutes, I could expand it. So, that’s what I did.
He was okay for the first 2-3 minutes, but then the “fight” began. He fussy, twisted, cried, and turned red. But not just any red … really, really red … tears rolling down his cheeks red. I hated those last 2 minutes of tummy time. I sang, showed books, made silly faces, broke out the toys. None of it worked on him. His facial expression was clear; “Traitor” was written all over his face. At last, the 5 minutes were up & he loved me again, until I did it again about an hour later. It’s not easy being a traitor ever hour. Then, finally, he made it to 5 minutes without pitching a fit. Then, I set my wristwatch for 7 minutes every hour. This adjustment was not quite as bad. Of course, his face said, “Wait a minute. I thought we had a deal. Why are you leaving me here longer?” I didn’t budge. I became the Traitor again. Funny thing is, by this point, I didn’t mind it so much. If he could do 5 minutes, he could do 7 minutes. In all honesty, we both moved along well after that. I stopped timing him, as he figured out, “Mommy meant business.” And he still loved me. Despite the torture, he loved me. Now that’s what the Mommy in me did.
As for the Pediatrician in me …. I told myself, ‘You encourage Tummy Time every day. If other mommies can do it, so can you. You don’t want Physical Therapy, do you? So, buckle up.’ And that helped me through.
So, that’s the advice I give. Set your wristwatch for 5 minutes to start. I tell my story. And I do warn parents of the potential developmental delay if Tummy Time does not take place. And the eventual need for Physical Therapy if their child does not advance their developmental milestones as expected. Not to mention, who wants the copays, lost time, and lost wages when all you need to do is Tummy Time?