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I ignored all the experts and refused to give my baby 'tummy time'

Katherine Clover is a painter, writer, activist, queer, sometimes interfaith lay preacher, always animal lover and full-time mama. She lives in beautiful Detroit, Michigan, with her wife, their baby, and three cats. Her favorite food is ...

I refused to let my baby scream and cry just to make the doctor happy

The first time I heard the phrase “tummy time,” I hated it because of the cutesy alliteration. In the throes of postpartum hell, I was informed that I was already “supposed” to be doing tummy time with my teeny tiny baby.

So I started trying to place my infant on his stomach while he was “awake and alert,” according to the standard recommendations, and it turned out that he hated tummy time just as much as I hated alliteration. I wasn’t sure what to do; none of the thousands of Pinterest tips seemed to help, and I didn’t know a single recent parent who hadn’t done tummy time with their precious baby.

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Yet, all of my parenting instincts said there was no way in hell this super-specific activity could actually be necessary for healthy development. After all, babies all over the world grow up in a wide variety of ways, and it would seem that the vast majority of children develop neck control just fine.

In my quest for information on the subject, I came across one article decrying tummy time, but not much else.

To be perfectly honest, I was a little nervous about going outside of the official recommendation. I’m pretty weird: I’m a gay mom and I’m also (fairly) crunchy, but I’m also pro-science and pro-vaccine. I don’t assume that all doctors are right about everything, but I do feel that when a vast majority of doctors recommend something, there’s probably a reason. And I want to know what the reason is.

However, in the case of tummy time, it seemed like the reason all went back to a fear of flat-headed infants after the back-to-sleep campaign really took hold. Plain and simple, I just wasn’t buying it. After only trying it a handful of times, I told my wife I was done with putting my child on his stomach and watching him struggle and cry.

So we just didn’t do it.

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When other moms casually asked if he could hold his head up from “a tummy position,” and I said I didn’t know, I got some weird looks. A few people seemed to think I was taking my child’s life in his hands, like maybe he’d be 5 and starting kindergarten but still not able to roll front-to-back. It was more than a little awkward, but I still couldn't imagine making my kid uncomfortable just to spare me a few weird conversations. I somehow managed to avoid talking about it with his pediatrician, which probably meant avoiding a lengthy lecture.

But then one day, he rolled back-to-front, and grinned at me. He held his head up just fine. And just like that, all the nail-biting about whether or not I made the right call was over. In one day, we went from being weirdo parents who made a controversial decision, to ordinary and boring again. Before long, he was rolling all around, and thinking about what it might be like to crawl. Being on his stomach didn’t stress him out, it was just something he did when he wanted to.

Of course, he was never on his back 24/7. From a very early age, he hated being held “like a baby” unless he was nursing, so if we were carrying him around we were mostly holding him upright. We also did a fair amount of babywearing (I think we used the newborn stroller about 15 times total), and we don’t own a car so he wasn’t spending a ton of time in his car seat. I’m not sure how much it helped, but even though he slept on his back and mostly played on his back, he likely wasn’t on his back as much as the average American infant.

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These days, he’s a year old, crawling faster than I can keep up with (even up the stairs) and just starting to get the hang of that whole walking thing. Despite my initial nervousness, I don’t regret skipping tummy time with him one bit. He's developed normally and hit all his milestones "on time" (though plenty of babies are later on some stuff and are just fine), and our entire family was able to bypass some unnecessary misery.

Before you go, check out our slideshow below:

I refused to let my baby scream and cry just to make the doctor happy
Image: matspersson0/Getty Images
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